EE and O2 offer fastest 4G speeds, Three trails behind

UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has published a report which details the performance of 4G networks by the country’s biggest operators. 210,000 indoor and outdoor tests were conducted between March and June this year in order to analyse real-world results of what customers can expect beyond the vague theoretical max speed numbers often advertised.

Due to 4G still being unavailable in a vast proportion of the UK, the tests were conducted in five of the biggest cities where capabilities have been available for some time; Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Manchester. Four markers were used to compare the performance of the operators in these cities; Download speed, Upload speed, Web browsing speed, and Latency.

As we consume more and more content, download speed is becoming increasingly important. As we do more business from our devices on-the-move, increased upload speed for storing and transferring content is becoming vital. As we stay in touch via video calls, decreasing latency is becoming essential. Ofcom’s job is to ensure quality of service, so this comprehensive research gives a clear look at how the operators are performing.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the operators are still expanding their networks; something which Ofcom is keen to iterate in their report. Further research is planned to be conducted and the findings of which will be published next year.

Download speeds

The average 4G speed in the UK, according to Ofcom’s research, is 15.1Mbps. This is around twice as fast as the average 3G speed of 6.1Mbps across all the networks. EE and O2’s results were faster than the median with 18.4Mbps and 15.6Mbps respectively. Vodafone was close to the average 4G download speed at 14.4Mbps.

UK network Three however fell behind in 4G download speeds with a disappointing 10.7Mbps – a result just slightly over the average 3G download speed. It’s best to keep in mind that Three was the last operator to roll-out its 4G services, and is the only network not to charge extra for 4G across any of their plans.

In terms of average 3G speed, EE and Vodafone led the pack with a close 6.8Mbps and 6.7Mbps respectively. O2 and Three came behind at 5.6Mbps and 5.2Mbps.

Average 4G and 3G download speeds by network

Upload speeds

Across the board, 4G’s upload speeds were a significant improvement over 3G. In some cases, speeds were more than seven times faster at 12.4Mbps compared to 1.6Mbps. Upload speed is a clear area where 4G shines and could be an area of interest for those sitting on the face as to whether upgrading from 3G is worthwhile at this point.

EE’s (14.7Mbit/s) and O2’s (13.0Mbit/s) 4G upload speeds were above average, followed by Vodafone and Three with 11.4Mbit/s and 11.1Mbit/s respectively. Three achieved the fastest average 3G upload speed (1.7Mbit/s).

Average 4G and 3G upload speed by network

Web browsing

A large amount of users use their mobile devices as a primary method of browsing the web. A variety of factors can affect how long it takes for a web page to load, but Ofcom’s research shows users can expect an average of 0.78 seconds on a 4G network vs 1.06 seconds.

Three took the lead in this category with a web page on their network loading in an average of 0.62 seconds on 4G, and 0.93 seconds on 3G. EE had the second fastest web browsing speed with 0.76 seconds on 4G, and 1.05 seconds on 3G.

Customers of O2 and Vodafone can expect to wait around 0.82 seconds to load a web page on 4G connections. Web pages took longer to load on O2’s 3G service (1.17 seconds) compared with all the other providers.

Average time taken to load a web page by network (lower is better)


Having a lower latency will improve performance and reduce delays – important for things such as video calls, watching live events, or gaming on-the-move. It’s pleasing to report that 4G has a lower latency than 3G services and is therefore more responsive than its predecessor.

Three once again came out strongest in this category, with the lowest latency on both 4G and 3G services at 47.6ms and 53.8ms respectively. O2 had the highest levels of latency, particularly on 3G, at 86.4ms. Apart from these two anomalies, most of the networks had negligibly different results and customers can expect similar performance.

Average 4G and 3G latency by network (lower is better)


Overall, 4G is looking an ever more tempting proposition to those sitting on the fence as to whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Three had disappointing results in the download speed area, but took the crown in several other categories. This is quite the feat considering the network was the last to roll-out 4G services and offers access to current 3G customers at no extra charge.

Do you feel that 4G services are meeting your personal expectations? Let us know in the comments.

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