A region-by-region look at the UK’s 3G and 4G performance

Today OpenSignal released its State of Mobile Networks for the U.K. in partnership with consumer advocacy group Which?. Our report drew on 500 million measurements tracking the 3G and 4G performance of the U.K.’s four major operators, but as an added bonus we decided to see how the different regions of the country compared, and the results were surprising indeed.


We looked at the 4G and overall speeds and availability in the nine official regions of England as well as in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. You would expect London to be at the top of the heap when it comes to mobile data performance given the investment operators have made in the capital, but it turns out that wasn’t the case. 3G and 4G signals were more readily available in London than in the rest of the kingdom, according to our measurements, but when it came to speed London didn’t fare as well as half the country. In terms of 4G speed, in fact, London came in dead last in our tests.

Data Source: OpenSignal

Data Source: OpenSignal

OpenSignal smartphone users experienced average download speeds of 18.8 Mbps in greater London, while in the other 11 regions average speeds were 20 Mbps or greater. The best performing region was the one most distant from the capital, Northern Ireland, where we measured average download speeds of 23.3 Mbps. Why the shortfall in the capital? London networks may be powerful, but they also carry some of the biggest loads of LTE users in the country. What we’re most likely seeing in London are networks experiencing higher levels of congestion, which in turn drags down average speeds.

When we factored in 3G connections, London performed much better. The capital’s overall mobile data speed average was 12.9 Mbps in our tests, which put it in the middle of the table. London’s 4G connections may have been the slowest in the country, but it provided a 4G signal much more often, which boosts the typical speeds our users measured. Northern Ireland, however, performed best in overall speed as well, closely followed by Yorkshire and the Humber. Our users in both regions saw average overall speeds greater than 15 Mbps.

Data Source: OpenSignal

How often you can see an LTE signal has obviously a big impact on the overall mobile data experience. After all, a 4G network is only so useful if you can only rarely connect to it. Our availability metric, which measures the proportion of time our users were able to latch onto a signal, varied quite dramatically from region from region. London performed best in this category as OpenSignal users were able to access an LTE connection 69.7% of the time. The North East and Yorkshire and the Humber also scored above 60% in this category. In four regions, however, 4G signals were accessible less than 50% of the time: the East Midlands, East of England, South West and Wales. In Wales 4G availability was particularly poor. We were only able to see the LTE network there 35.4% of the time.

Luckily the U.K. still has 3G to fall back on. In most regions, our testers were able to get a 3G or better connection more than 80% of the time, though London was the only region where that number increased beyond 90%. The regions with the lowest access to mobile data were Scotland, Wales and the South West, all of which had availability scores below 80%.

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