Not all 4G networks throughout the UK and beyond are created equally. While many similarities exist, each network may offer varying speeds, data usage and reliability depending on the area. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about UK and global 4G networks among network providers is covered below in our fact sheet!
While many rural and suburban areas may still be primarily operating on 3G networks, 4G is available in many urban areas and beyond. 4G data speeds are approximately five times faster than 3G speeds, meaning that you can download more content and accomplish more tasks in less time. While widespread access does exist, most networks do not allow global roaming on 4G & 4G LTE just yet. Research has shown that the spread of 4G mobile network access is driving economic growth in areas where reliable internet connections did not exist previously by stimulating mobile commerce.
4G Global Coverage
Currently, roughly 60 countries have at least some 4G coverage available within their boundaries. While the global 4G network continues to grow rapidly, America currently has more 4G customers than the rest of the world combined (roughly sixty percent). Throughout Europe, 4G network access is most common in Scandinavian and Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, with Germany not far behind.
Throughout the rest of Europe, 4G network adoption is moving at a much slower pace. France, Italy and Spain, for instance, are still struggling with the deployment of reliable 4G infrastructure that covers the entirety of their respective territories. Europe as a whole has set fairly ambitious goals: 100% broadband access with speeds of 30Mbps or greater & 50% prevalence of 100Mbps broadband access by 2020.
4G Coverage in the UK
The United Kingdom is currently somewhere in the middle of these two groups, making great strides but yet to catch up with its Nordic and Scandinavian neighbours.
One network in particular – EE – is the only reliable provider of 4G mobile internet and data access within the UK. Over the past couple of years, the network decided to repurpose its existing 2G spectrum network for this purpose, which now covers more than 70 cities throughout the country. More than one million mobile subscribers currently have 4G network plans, and EE has a goal to cover nearly 100% of the country with 4G access in the next few years.
Vodafone and other mobile networks are also making plans to saturate urban areas with universal 4G access in the coming years, ensuring that everyone has the choice to embrace a superior network solution if they so choose. All four of the major networks – EE, O2, Three & Vodafone – have won spectrum through the auction of Ofcom, which has allowed all of the major networks to begin rapidly expanding their 4G offerings. EE still retains the lead in prevalence, however. Through developments on this infrastructure, 98% of the UK population can inevitably be reached.
Current Speeds and Coverage by Provider
Three offers 4G coverage predominantly in the south-eastern portion of the United Kingdom, largely confined to England. It offers fairly continuous coverage from Manchester to London and throughout all of the populated centres in between, boasting an average download speed of 8.4 Mb/s. Average upload speed is around 5.2 Mb/s, with around 80% network reliability overall.
O2’s network is substantially more prevalent than Three’s, and the download speeds are a little better, too. Virtually all of England is now covered under O2’s 4G network, but between Manchester and Glasgow, service becomes spotty. Southern Scotland is also well-serviced. The average download speed on O2’s 4G network is around 10 Mb/s; the average upload speed is about 3.6 Mb/s. Network reliability is rated at 87%.
EE offers exceptional coverage in terms of geographic spread – better than the rest – but less overall availability in Scotland. With the largest overall prevalence in England, EE is often the first choice for many who are concerned with reliable 4G service. The average download speed on EE’s network is 9.2 Mb/s, while the average upload speed is 3.1 Mb/s. Network reliability falls in the middle of the networks at about 83%.
Vodafone’s network is comparable to O2’s in northern England and Scotland, but otherwise, many in southern England will find it reliable. Currently boasting the fastest overall download speeds (11.2 Mb/s), Vodafone makes up for its smaller spread with faster speeds. Upload speeds on Vodafone are better than all but O2’s, coming in at an average of 4.2 Mb/s. Network reliability is on the lower end, rated at 80%.
The nature of 4G prevalence continues to spread throughout the UK, which is a relative large country and as such will take time. If you are looking for the most coverage throughout the country, then EE is a no-brainer. Faster speeds can be found with Vodafone, and O2/Three offer a balanced level of coverage for better overall prices. As dozens of countries around the world continue to expand their networks and provide fast mobile internet to billions, this service will revolutionise how we communicate, access information and interact economically with one another.