The UK’s four mobile network operators cannot be split when it comes to 5G speeds, according to the latest data published by mobile network testing company RootMetrics, but Three leads in some key metrics.

But a closer look at the figures shows that some operators are more equal than others.

“The 5G speed race [was] too close to call,” RootMetrics said, when presenting the findings of its UK mobile performance review for the second half of 2022.

The firm declined to name any one of the four as the fastest 5G provider because no one company topped the speed charts across the board; RootMetrics measures median speed, which represents the most typical user experience, but also includes best and worst case scenarios, and an operator is required to come out on top in all three categories to be awarded the ‘fastest’ accolade.

However, it’s pretty clear from the numbers which are the best performing operators (see chart).

Three UK is some way ahead of the pack on median 5G download speeds, coming in at north of 200 Mbps. It also leads in the 95th percentile – or best case scenario – its peak speed hitting 739 Mbps, almost twice that of second-placed EE. RootMetrics describes 95th percentile speeds as “the ceiling of your 5G experience [that] happen on those rare occasions when speeds jump.”

EE tops the chart in the 5th percentile, or the floor of the customer’s 5G experience. RootMetrics describes those speeds as “key measure of a network’s speed consistency,” since users exceed 5th percentile speeds almost all the time. So that’s something to be cheered for EE.

Actually, EE has plenty to cheer, having emerged as the best performing UK operator overall. Again.

“EE remains the operator to beat in UK-wide, nation, and metro area testing in 2H 2022,” RootMetrics said. “EE won every UK-wide RootScore Award outright, while also earning nearly every possible award across the nations and in major cities.”

Understandably, EE is pretty excited about that, and made an announcement of its own on the subject, talking up its network spend in particular.

“It’s a remarkable achievement to be named the UK’s best network for the nineteenth report running,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer Division. “The work keeps going as we look to maintain the significant investment required to ensure the rollout of our 4G and 5G networks continue to deliver for our customers.”

All well and good. But the telco has been just a teeny bit sneaky too. It has published a list of 19 new locations where it has rolled out 5G “to mark the award,” without mentioning that actually, it is not top dog in 5G. Somehow, its choice of wording feels a little bit disingenuous.

That said, EE can pat itself on the back for its overall performance. And UK mobile users can be happy with the services they are receiving, from the network point of view, at least.

“Mobile performance in the UK is strong in general and should only improve over time as 5G continues to mature and expand,” RootMetrics surmised.

“5G median download speeds were fast across the board for all four operators in our UK-wide testing – primarily over 100 Mbps,” it said.

‘Primarily’ essentially means three out of four operators hit that benchmark. Virgin Media O2 is playing catch-up, but RootMetrics highlighted improvements in its 5G availability, which it noted should lead to better speeds. VMO2 doubtless hopes so.

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