Study Benchmarks the Best UK Mobile Networks for H1 2021


Mobile testing firm RootMetrics has published their latest biannual H1 2021 study of mobile network (4G and 5G) and broadband performance across the United Kingdom, which once again named EE (BT) as the best overall operator. But they were beaten in one category, with O2 (VMO2) coming top for accessibility.

Much like the previous study, the latest H1 2021 update was conducted by harnessing a number of the “latest” Samsung 5G Smartphones (they don’t identify the model), which had been purchased off the shelf, to test both 4G and 5G performance.

The scientific testing itself was conducted during both the day and night across 16 of the UK’s most populated cities, while walking and driving. Overall, a total of 600,000 tests were completed at 750 different locations. The coverage of 5G has improved a lot in these urban areas and is thus now having a real impact on the results, but on the flip side this isn’t particularly useful at reflecting UK performance in rural areas.

Otherwise, the study splits its results into several categories (network reliability, speed, data, call and text quality etc.) and each is assigned a score out of 100 (higher numbers = better). In terms of the UK-wide results, EE came top in almost every single category except ‘Accessibility’, where O2 (VMO2) ruled, and their closest overall rival remains Vodafone, which has put itself into contention across several categories.

Overall Scores for H1 2021 (vs H2 2020 Result)
1. EE – 95.2 (up from 94.2)
2. Vodafone – 92.3 (up from 89.8)
3. O2 – 87.6  (up from 85,4)
4. Three UK – 87.5 (up from 86.6)

In terms of average (median) download speeds, EE delivered the strongest showing on 58.8Mbps (Megabits per second) across both 4G and 5G networks combined, which is up from 43Mbps in H2 2020 (5G is clearly starting to have an impact). Vodafone achieved 25.2Mbps (up from 21.1Mbps), Three UK hit 19.1Mbps (up from 13.9Mbps) and O2 reached 15.6Mbps (up from 12.9Mbps). Broadly, it is a story of improvement.


The study also includes a very limited summary of how the new 5G based mobile networks are performing (4G excluded). Overall, EE had the highest 5G availability in Birmingham (64.6%), while Vodafone’s top city for 5G was Liverpool (51.5%), Three UK did best in Hull (51.5%) and O2 was happiest in Belfast (34.3%)

Meanwhile, the fastest 5G median “Everyday” download speed for EE was found in Birmingham (162.9Mbps), while Vodafone did well in Glasgow (192.2Mbps), O2 topped out in Glasgow too (179.3Mbps) and Three UK’s fastest was Belfast (127.1Mbps).

Summary of Results by UK Mobile Operator

EE continues to lead in UK-wide testing:
EE remained the operator to beat in our UK-wide testing, winning or sharing six out of seven UK RootScore Awards. In fact, 1H 2021 marked the eighth consecutive test period in which EE ranked first in the categories of overall performance, network reliability, network speed, as well as data, call, and text performance. Not only that, EE’s aggregate median download speed of 58.8 Mbps marked an increase from 43.0 Mbps last time and was over twice as fast as that of any other operator. While EE’s ranking for network accessibility dropped since 2H 2020, EE’s RootScore of 92.9 in the category was quite good and just a bit behind those of Vodafone (93.6) and leader Virgin Media O2 (94.0).

Three’s rankings remain nearly identical to those from 2H 2020, with strong scores for network reliability and text performance:
With one exception, Three’s UK-wide rankings remained the same as those in 2H 2020; this time, though, the operator finished fourth in the text performance category, marking a drop from second in 2H 2020. That said, Three’s UK Text RootScore of 97.8 was still quite high and not far behind those of the other networks. Three also posted a strong UK Network Reliability RootScore of 93.4.

O2 shows strong progress, winning the UK Network Accessibility Award and improving in three other categories:
Virgin Media O2 earned its first-ever RootScore Award at the UK-wide level in 1H 2021, doing so in the Network Accessibility RootScore category. The operator also improved its rankings from fourth in 2H 2020 to third in 1H 2021 for overall performance, network reliability, and call performance. With Virgin Media O2 showing improvement in multiple areas in 1H 2021, along with impressive Everyday 5G median download speeds, we could be witnessing a sign of better performance to come.

Vodafone shows significant improvement since 2H 2020:
Vodafone showed notable improvement in the first half of 2021, taking home three UK RootScore Awards, a marked increase from one in 2H 2020. The operator improved its rank for network reliability from second in 2H 2020 into a two-way tie for first, while also moving into first place (up from second) for call and text performance. While Vodafone’s ranking for network accessibility dropped from first in 2H 2020 to second this time, its RootScore in the category of 93.6 was barely behind that of Virgin Media O2 (94.0). Vodafone also registered the second-fastest aggregate median download speed at 25.2 Mbps.

The RootMetrics study also gave a result for each operator’s aggregate median mobile broadband download speed (Mbps) across each of the four UK nations – including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


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