EE can boast the best latency among UK mobile network operators, while O2 has the slowest download speeds, according to new data from Ofcom, which is also keeping an eye on what the MNOs are up to when their customers are travelling overseas.

Mary Lennighan

July 21, 2023

4 Min Read
Europe map with network points

EE can boast the best latency among UK mobile network operators, while O2 has the slowest download speeds, according to new data from Ofcom, which is also keeping an eye on what the MNOs are up to when their customers are travelling overseas.

The UK telecoms regulator on Thursday published its latest annual Mobile Matters report, which uses crowdsourced data to gain insight into what mobile users experience when connected to different operators’ networks and via different technologies. The report coincided with a separate announcement from the watchdog, in which it outlined proposals to protect UK mobile users from unexpected roaming charges while they are away from home.

First the domestic front. Mobile Matters 2023 includes a number of headline findings, but the ones likely to attract the most interest are those that effectively benchmark the telcos against one another; there’s little value in the discovery that download speeds are faster on 5G than 4G, for example. There are numerous categories and subtleties within the findings, but essentially EE comes out on top and O2 is lagging behind.

“The average response time was significantly better on EE than the other MNOs’ networks,” the report declares, noting that the telco had the fastest latency across 3G, 4G and 5G networks. O2 came bottom of the pile on 3G and 5G, while Vodafone was the slowest on 4G. That last point is particularly noteworthy given that the study found that UK mobile customers were connected to 4G for 88% of the time.

EE had the fastest average download speed on 4G and came joint first with Three on 3G, but Three came out ahead on 5G. O2 was slowest over 4G and 5G, and came joint last with Vodafone on 3G. EE was again top of the pack on average 3G and 4G upload speeds and tied with Three on 5G, while again customers of O2 lost out, experiencing the slowest 4G and 5G upload speeds.

O2 customers had the longest average file download times; downloading a 2MB or 5MB file on O2 was longer than the other MNOs’ download times for 5G, 4G and 3G networks, the report notes.

Food for thought for UK mobile customers, particularly given the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Despite that, many people from the UK will travel abroad this summer and the regulator is also doing its best to make sure they are well informed about the extra costs they could incur as a result.

The UK’s exit from the European Union allowed mobile operators to resume imposing roaming charges on their customers, being no longer bound by ‘roam like at home’ rules. They could have kept to the old ways, of course, but – unsurprisingly – chose not to miss the opportunity to make a quick quid.

According to Ofcom, 19% of holidaymakers are unaware that they could be charged extra for using their mobile phone abroad – as much as £2 per day, in fact – and 18% said they do not look into roaming charges before setting off on their travels.

The regulator identified roaming alerts as key tool to keep travellers in the loop; 72% said they modify their phone behaviour when they receive such an alert, like moving to WiFi, using less data, or turning off data roaming altogether. As such, it is proposing new rules and guidelines that will, amongst other things, require MNOs to inform customers when they start roaming and what the costs will be, and alert them to action they can take to keep costs down.

“These alerts would mean whichever mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and action you can take to manage your spending,” said Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection.

The proposal seems like something of a no-brainer. While mobile operators are keen to milk the roaming cash cow, they would surely prefer to do it with customers’ knowledge rather than face a raft of customer care calls and reputational damage after the fact.

Indeed, many operators already send such alerts, but they might need to make changes to systems and processes, so Ofcom has proposed a six-month implementation period from when it publishes its decision. And that’s likely to be as long away as early 2024, it says, following a consultation period that will run until late September this year.

So UK residents holidaying abroad will have to keep their wits about them when it comes to mobile roaming this summer. And it would probably be a good idea to stay alert when it comes to mobile comms at home too. As Ofcom’s report shows, not all networks are created equally.

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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