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UK cities benchmark 4G usage

High demand for mobile bandwidth is forcing a significant portion of users to fall back onto 3G capacity

Birmingham is one of the cities being examined in the 4G project
Birmingham is one of the cities being examined in the 4G project

A new study suggests that while high-speed broadband infrastructure is widespread across major cities in the UK, the levels of service are poor driven by the high level of demand that is continuously competing for the available bandwidth.


Competitive network analytics vendor, Teragence, and telecom research and consultancy firm, STL Partners, are working together to benchmark 4G usage in three cities as an ongoing and regular exercise.


Unlike conventional statistics that show 4G coverage by numbers of subscribers reached, their analysis is based on the length of time that real users spend connected to 4G while they are within these metropolitan areas.


Looking at subscribers on the four main mobile network operators (MNOs) in the UK (Vodafone, EE/BT, O2 and Three) in Birmingham, Leeds and London, the analysis compares the aggregate percentage of total connected time that was spent on 4G.


The “time on technology” analysis for STL Partners was conducted during the first half of 2018, by calculating the percentage of 4G measurements in the total measurement pool in a given city, regardless of the location of those measurements. This means that if, for example, two measurements occurred in the same location, they were treated as two discrete measurements, not a single one.


According to Teragence, this metric differs from a geographic coverage percentage as it aligns more to where people spend their time, rather than where they might just pass through.


Across all three cities, the findings reveal that time spent by Vodafone and EE users on 4G was almost equal, while O2 and Three usage lagged somewhat behind. However, for all four networks the figure was proportionately lower in London than in either Leeds or Birmingham.


While London probably has near to 100 per cent 4G geographic coverage (4G is available in virtually every location), at the same time the high demand for mobile bandwidth is forcing a “significant portion” of users to fall back onto 3G capacity.


In support of this, Teragence’s analysis shows that for all operators, prevalence of 3G connectivity is highest in the centre of London, rather than the suburbs.


Teragence said its findings also dovetail with a recent study conducted by the Financial Times which points to Britain’s “new” digital divide. Its broadband speed map, based on data provided by industry regulator Ofcom, shows that users in some of the most rural areas of the country enjoy broadband speeds which are considerably faster than those in the middle of London or Manchester.


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