Mobile Networks

Which is the best Mobile Network?

This question is almost like, “how long is a piece of string?” since which network is best for you does depend on where you live. It’s true that some networks have better coverage overall in the UK than others, but for your home or work location things can vary enormously. It isn’t only location that alters signal strength either. Everything can affect your signal when you are indoors, from thickness of your walls all the way to where other people in the house are standing. The main benefit of 4G is that it can penetrate indoors much better than 3G and erase some of these silly signal problems. It is also best to keep in mind that networks are always expanding and improving their signal to make sure their customers get what they need. It is always good to keep an eye on signal strength as it can change every few years.

RootMetrics – independent tests

In terms of general coverage and performance, a company called Rootmetrics has tested the UK networks extensively in the past couple of years. Rootmetrics actually test mobile networks around the world, so if you wanted to know about performance in the US market they are the company. However, for most of our readers it’s the UK market that is far more interesting.

The best summary of the results from 2015 are shown in the graphic below.


The full report can be read on their web site

The results at this moment for the best coverage/performance in the UK show the EE network coming out the highest. The tests that make up these results are not just based on calls, but doing all the things that a mobile phone does for us today. So yes Texting is still included but probably the most important thing is data. Whether its Facebook, YouTube or work emails that are the most important, these services all use data. So you need good coverage and high speed to support your mobile phone so that it in turn can give you the info you need.

Can your phone make use of the high speed network?

It is important to understand that you need a contract and a phone that supports access to the high speed 4G network, be it single speed 4G on O2, 3 and Vodafone or double speed 4G on the EE network. If you have a brand new phone but you put an old sim with your years old tariff, then chances are you won’t be picking up a 4G signal. Similarly, if you have a brand new tariff but put that sim into a phone which is a few years old then once again you are most likely not on 4G. The Old tariffs and old phones in the main won’t support the access speed that networks are able to provide. This is why you need to check both components have access to the 4G network to have the fastest connection.

Beware what your phone tells you

One item worthy of note is the signal level that your phone displays. Since there is only one place (normally at the top of the screen) to display signal level the phone has to decide what it displays. Most phones are now displaying the highest speed data service, so if 4G is available but has only one bar of signal strength, compared to the 3G signal at 5 bars, your phone will show only 1 bar. So you need to be careful in interpreting the signal level indication from your phone. This is especially important as calls at the moment use the 2G and 3G networks. So the fact you have only 1 bar of signal, may still mean that your phone will make a receive calls without any issues, but may have trouble with high speed data reception.

Dead Zones

So what can you do if you have limited or no signal coverage?

If you are out and about, probably not much. If you are travelling down a road and there is no network coverage, then there is not likely to be much of an alternative you can use to fix or help with the problem. That means you will miss calls/text, the sat nav on the phone may stop showing you the correct map and position (unless you have a Lumia phone) and generally the phone becomes a brick. Although this is sometimes a nice break from our busy lifestyles, anyone trying to run a business or expecting a call will find this very frustrating.

However, if you are in a town or city, then there are alternatives. Many phones now are capable of using the WiFI to make and receive calls/text over the WiFI network using your existing mobile number. So if you find yourself in a costa coffee or any place that has little or no signal see if the place has WiFi. Connect your phone to the WiFI and if your plan and phone supports it, you will not miss any calls/text.

The Future

The next thing coming down the line is 5G. You may say that they have not finished on the 4G yet and you would be right, but the techy’s are busy working on 5G already.

5G is based on 4G but faster. How much faster in practice has yet to be seen, but the technology should provide for 10 times the 4G speed. So downloading films etc will become a real possibility without having to wait for hours.

However, don’t wait for 5G before choosing your next phone. It is not likely we will see even trials in the UK before 2020 let alone big rollouts that you and I can use. Furthermore, one of the challenges with the expected 5G signals is the frequency. They use much high frequencies than 4G which is good for shifting data but lousy at distance. So you think you have coverage problems now. Just wait till 5G is not available in your location….


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