Voice services may become less important – however, customers expect reliable connections when talking on the phone. How do the UK networks fulfil these expectations?
On their tour through the UK, P3‘s four test cars visited 20 of the largest UK cities and many smaller towns as well as covering the connecting roads. Additionally, two walktest teams conducted tests in selected cities and towns. For the voice rating, each car and walktest team member carried Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphones that permanently called each other. The connected testing equipment registered success ratios, setup times and speech quality. In order to simulate normal smartphone usage, data transfers took place in the background of the test calls.
EE shows best voice performance, Vodafone almost on par in larger cities
EE and Vodafone share the best test results for voice services in the larger cities. Here, Vodafone scored even slightly higher than EE in the drivetest scenario. And O2 is ahead of Three in the voice tests conducted in larger cities. However, in smaller towns and on the roads, EE takes a clear lead over its competitors.
All UK operators have started to roll out Voice over LTE (VoLTE) in their networks.
EE, Vodafone and O2 managed to distinctly reduce call setup times in the cities, which might be one of the effects of VoLTE.
In the Three network, we observed considerably longer call set up times in larger cities – with a gap of more than 1.5 seconds to the other three contenders. O2 is losing ground in terms of voice performance especially in the smaller towns and on the roads.
VOICE RESULTS AT A GLANCE
EE delivers the best voice performance in the UK. In larger cities, Vodafone shows equally good results, but falls somewhat behind in smaller towns and on the roads. O2 is strong in voice in larger cities, but falls back in towns and on the roads. Three scores third in voice, but shows long call set up times.
The volume of transmitted data is steadily growing. So, all operators face the challenge to keep data rates and reaction times at a high level. Which UK operator manages to best meet the growing demand?
The volume of mobile data downloads and uploads is growing exponentially. While 4G/LTE currently is the best technology to cope with these increasing demands and all UK 4G networks realise a wide coverage of the population, the four operators pursue different rollout strategies. EE and Vodafone chase each other with continually growing data rates that currently go up to 450 Mbps, based on the so-called carrier aggregation (the combination of multiple carrier frequencies). In contrast, O2 and Three stick with a solid 100 Mbps and mainly focus on enlarging their 4G footprint. P3‘s testing takes both aspects into account – the benchmarking of web-page downloads as well as file downloads and uploads rewards fast throughputs. At the same time, it assesses the networks‘ availability and stability by examining success ratios. In order to assess typical performance as well as peak speeds, we determined the minimum data rates that are available in 90 per cent of the cases plus the peak data rates that would be surpassed in 10 per cent of the cases.
P3‘s approach for YouTube testing recognises that this popular video service uses adaptive bit rates. This method strives for a better user experience, subordinating pixel resolution to stable playback. As a consequence, besides success ratios, start times and the absence of interruptions, we have added the average video resolution as another important performance indicator.
EE is data leader in larger cities
EE especially scores high in the disciplines of web browsing as well as file downloads and file uploads. In the YouTube tests, EE and Vodafone show a strong performance and are clearly ahead of Three and O2. EE showed the best YouTube performance in the drivetest scenarios, while Vodafone shows the strongest YouTube performance in the walktest scenarios.
Three ranking second in smaller towns
In the towns outside metropolitan areas, EE is also leading the field. However, similar to the voice results, Three performs somewhat stronger in smaller towns than the overall second-ranking Vodafone. This is especially due to Three‘s strong results for file downloads and web browsing in towns. In the Youtube discipline in smaller towns, the results of Three and Vodafone are not far apart.
EE ahead on major roads, Vodafone closely behind
On the connecting roads, EE again takes a clear lead, providing fast data rates and achieving convincing success ratios. Vodafone and Three also show strong results in this category, while O2 lags a little behind. Nonetheless, with the success ratios in all considered categories scoring well over 90 per cent even on the relatively demanding connecting roads, all four mobile network operators provide viable performance even in the more rural areas.
Data Results At A Glance
Again, EE is the overall winner in the data categories. Vodafone follows at a close distance, with a strong performance especially in the walktest scenarios. Three ranks third in the total data category, but is able to score ahead of the overall second-ranking Vodafone in smaller towns. O2 ranks last in all data test scenarios. But all four UK networks achieve relatively high success ratios even in demanding areas like the smaller towns and connecting roads.
Traditionally, P3 and connect take a closer look at the capital to see how the operators cover this busy Metropolis.
Being a major business hub and by far
the most densely populated area in the UK, London is an especially demanding terrain for deploying and maintaining a mobile network. This is why we regularly take a closer look to see how coverage in the capital compares to the rest of the country.
As the tests in London cannot obtain
the points that could be gathered in smaller towns or on connecting roads, the achievable maximum is 600 points. We have adapted the achievable crowd score points accordingly which results in a possible maximum of 18 Points.
Vodafone one point ahead in voice
In the drivetests and walktests measuring voice services in London, Vodafone takes a narrow lead over EE. But clearly ahead in the data discipline, EE defends the overall first rank also here.
O2 ahead of Three in London
Also, in the total results for London, O2 overtakes Three with a noticeable advance of 13 points. This advance is mostly obtained in the voice discipline. Regarding data performance, Three is still ahead of O2. In the proportionally matched crowd score, only Three loses one of the possible maximum of 18 Points.
London results at a glance
The overall winner in the capital is EE, with Vodafone taking a lead in the voice discipline. In London, O2 is somewhat ahead of Three due to stronger voice results. However, when taking the data category into consideration, Three’s score remains ahead of 02.
As interesting as the focus on the densely populated London area may be, for obvious reasons the inhabitants of other large UK cities and the capitals of the other countries besides England have their own perspective on network performance and availability. In an attempt to also provide some insights for these points of view, we have additionally analysed the performances of the four operators in seven large UK cities – specifically Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. We would like to present the results as a case study. The values represented in the chart below are part of the overall UK score but do not earn individual grades. They may, however, help local customers to better chose their ideal network. We have not included the crowd score in this assessment, as the crowdsourced data in the single cities would not measure up to the required statistical relevance.
EE still mostly leading, Vodafone overtaking in Glasgow and Liverpool
In the cities of Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, the overall picture is not much different to the nationwide results. Here, EE takes the lead, and the subsequent ranking is identical to our total score for the UK. In Belfast, EE also leads before Vodafone. However, here O2 scores stronger than Three and reaches the third rank thanks to strong voice results. And in Sheffield, Three overtakes Vodafone by the fraction of a per cent and thus ranks second.
In Glasgow and Liverpool, Vodafone manages to take the lead over EE. In Liverpool, the gap is quite narrow, while it is a little more pronounced in Glasgow. In both cities, Vodafone takes the win due to strong data results. Looking only at the voice discipline, EE still is ahead in Glasgow (with a strong O2 as a third top voice candidate) and scores on par with Vodafone in Liverpool.
Three very strong in data in some cities
Looking for local champions, we can see that Three scored remarkably well in the data discipline in Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow and Sheffield. In Sheffield, Three manages to score slightly ahead of Vodafone, ranking second in the overall evaluation. But even in those cities where the competitors show remarkable strength in specific categories, EE still scores very high and – aside from the exceptions mentioned above – can defend its overall top position.