EE remains the best mobile network in the UK, according to the latest testing data, but the telco is not having things all its own way in 5G, where rival Three is giving it a run for its money.

RootMetrics conveyed its so-called Overall RootScore Award for the UK on EE for the 20th consecutive time based on data for the first half of this year, or to put it another way, the telco has been the UK’s strongest network operator for 10 years in a row. Naturally, it’s pretty excited about that and issued a release of its own outlining its attributes, lest anyone should fail to notice.

EE picks up the award by virtue of coming top of the pile in all nationwide categories: reliability, accessibility, speed, data, call and text. It’s entirely fair that it wants to shout about it.

But in 5G, it’s all still to play for. Just as it did in the previous iteration of its biannual report, RootMetrics declared the race for 5G leadership “too close to call” in the UK. However, it noted that EE and Three are ahead of the rest. Three had the highest median and 95th percentile download speeds over 5G, while EE won on the fifth percentile; those measures represent the best and worst case scenarios, as well as the average, and an operator needs to win across all three to be crowned the leader. But with the median measure being the typical 5G speed a customer can expect, it’s reasonable to give Three a pat on the back.

That typical 5G download speed varies quite a lot between operators: Three recorded a median speed of 202.2 Mbps, followed fairly closely by EE with 144.6 Mbps and Vodafone with 131.5 Mbps, while Virgin Media O2 brings up the rear at 75.1 Mbps. That’s not great on VMO2’s part, and mirrors recent crowdsourced data published by Ofcom, but on the plus side, it’s an improvement on the previous report.

In fact, all operators bar Three boasted faster 5G speeds than they did six months ago, and Three’s slight dip – 0.6 Mbps slower – is barely worth registering. Furthermore, RootMetrics notes that at any of the above speeds a user can expect a near-instantaneous file download and quick access to content and entertainment, which is something of a comfort for O2’s 5G customers.

“While no 5G leader surfaced from RootMetrics’ 1H 2023 testing, consumers in the UK are the clear winners to emerge from the continued competition,” the report reads.

Indeed. 5G availability also improved in major cities in the first half of the year, with Three and EE averaging 50% plus availability, Virgin Media O2 coming in at close to 50% and Vodafone lagging a little at around 40%. Reliability on 5G was outstanding, while latency remains a work in progress, pending broader rollout of standalone 5G, RootMetrics said.

There’s clearly work to be done from both O2 and Vodafone if they are to keep up with their rivals on 5G. That’s perhaps less of a concern for Vodafone, which is in the process of merging with Three, regulatory hoops permitting.

But while Three is arguably ahead on 5G, we’ll let overall market leader EE have the last word.

“We are at the start of a new chapter in the mobile industry, one which will see the new generation of EE evolve and provide more than just the connectivity we are famous for,” said the telco’s CEO Marc Allera. “It’s fantastic to have the solid foundation of being the UK’s best mobile network for ten consecutive years on which to build our exciting future.”

There’s a hint at 5G monetisation efforts there from EE – new services beyond faster connectivity perhaps – but again, it looks like we’ll have to wait for standalone 5G for more clarity on what that exciting future will look like.

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