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EE remains UK’s fastest 4G provider – but for how long?

A new report shows that EE still offers the best 4G coverage and speeds in the land – but O2 and Vodafone are gaining ground. 

Network analyst RootMetrics has pegged EE’s top 4G download speed at an impressive 94.1Mbps in Belfast, while O2 recorded its fastest maximum downlink speed at 64.7Mbps in London. 

Vodafone’s fastest maximum speed downstream was 64.5Mbps, recorded in both Belfast and London. Three’s maximum download speed of 50Mbps was in Sheffield, flagging behind the pack somewhat. 

EE is still king of the 4G castle in terms of coverage and speed, something that’s perhaps not surprising when you consider it was allowed a head start on the competition and has been first to launch double speed 4G and LTE-Advanced services in the UK. 

Each network was rated highly for reliability, in terms of the ability to connect when in an area of 4G coverage, though the report concluded that all of the providers needed to improve their footprint for coverage drastically. In this aspect, Three came off worst, offering “4G service in 14 markets but often recorded smaller 4G footprints, with rates of 4G coverage never exceeding 44 per cent” in any area. 

Consistent with the findings from Ofcom’s recent reports, while Three’s 4G footprint is easily the smallest in the UK, the strength of its 3G network compensates for this. Data speeds when outside of a 4G area were significantly higher on Three’s network, with speeds of 7.3Mbps on average, where O2 never managed to pass 3Mbps in any market.

Related: EE’s LTE-A average speeds outstrip BT’s superfast FTTC headline rateThis is good news for any Three customer who is using an older device which isn’t 4G enabled as it means they’ll have the best chance of getting decent speeds on their data with Three.

RootMetrics also noted that Three’s strong 3G network puts it in good stead for future expansion. “Three’s legacy network also offers a fantastic base upon which to expand its 4G offerings,” the report said. “As its 4G coverage increases, Three will be able to offer a powerful mix of 4G plus already excellent speeds when 4G isn’t available.”

Three merging with O2 could see 4G coverage expand and improve quickly. In the 4G spectrum auction, O2 bagged licences for the lower 900MHz frequency, which could be used to improve 4G reception indoors and in rural areas

EE promises 99 per cent 4G coverage by 2017Both networks have licences for the 800MHz and 1800MHz bands. A combined Three and O2 would also leapfrog EE in terms of customers – both networks combined currently have a subscriber base of over 32 million compared to EE’s 28 million.

Three and O2’s merger isn’t currently set in stone and any bids will be subject to approval from competition regulators. This merger could have an effect on consumers, as the number of mobile networks would shrink from four to three. 

Recently, BT announced that it expects to have acquired EE by March 2016, which is again subject to regulatory approval. 


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