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UK’s ‘Already Poor’ 4G Coverage Is Not Getting Much Better

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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OpenSignal research says British mobiles can only get a 4G signal 53 percent of the time

Research from OpenSignal and consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ says the UK’s “already poor” 4G coverage has shown only minimal improvement over the past six months, with mobile users only able to receive an LTE signal on 53 percent of occasions.

Data compiled from the 30,000 users of OpenSignal’s crowdsourcing mobile application, which checks for a connection every 15 minutes, found that although average speeds had increased, coverage still left a lot to be desired.

OpenSignal says there are 39 countries where LTE is available 60 percent of the time or more. South Korea leads the way with 97 percent, but the UK is behind Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Bolivia too.

EE, the UK’s largest 4G operator in terms of customers and coverage, claims 95 percent outdoor population coverage.

More investment needed

UK“Almost everyone now uses a mobile phone service and it’s not good enough that the UK is lagging behind so many countries with our 4G network coverage. Increasing 4G access s​hould be a priority for mobile providers and Ofcom must continue to push them to make this a reality,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?

EE had the most reliable 4G network, with customers able to access am LTE signal 60.6 percent of the time, followed by Vodafone (57 percent), O2 (56 percent) and Three (39.8 percent).

Three performed much better with speed however, delivering an average of 18.7Mbps, ahead of EE’s 17.8 percent, O2’s 12.1Mbps average and Vodafone’s 11.8Mbps.

The fact that many users are having to revert to 3G has an impact on average speeds, but one silver lining is that EE, Three and Vodafone all deliver in excess of the global average of 3.5Mbps.

Read More: What next for rural mobile coverage?

“While it’s clear the UK is making progress in building out powerful 4G networks, it’s obvious there is still some work to do to extend coverage further,” added OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill.

As per the terms of its 800MHz spectrum licence, O2 is obligated to provide an indoor LTE service to 98 percent of the population and it has been suggested that the other major operators will either match this or come close.

However some believe operators are reluctant to invest in the UK because of the competitive communications market and because of the difficulties in deploying masts and other equipment. The government has indicated regulations will be relaxed in order to improve coverage – particularly in rural areas.

Quiz: What do you know about 4G?