O2’s 4G coverage has rapidly grown, with the network now standing at around 70% UK population coverage. In other words it’s hot on EE’s heels and shows no sign of slowing down.
But to give you a better idea of not just how much 4G coverage O2 has but how fast and how reliable it is too we’ve created this guide, based in large part on RootMetrics findings during the second half of 2014.
The company carried out extensive tests in 16 major population centres (Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield) and here we’ll highlight the results in both individual areas and as a whole.
As it only covers up until the end of the year you can assume performance and coverage will have improved since then, but it gives you a snapshot and a good idea of roughly how things stand.
O2’s 4G footprint is the likelihood of accessing 4G on the network in a given area, with its highest footprint, of 71.9%, found in Edinburgh.
Across all 16 tested markets it has a median 4G access rate of 52.7%, which is better than it might sound as it includes several locations in which O2 didn’t actually have a live 4G network.
However 4G was available in 13 of the 16 locations, with only Bristol, Cardiff and Hull lacking a signal.
In order to test the reliability of the network RootMetrics recorded both successful initial connection rates and how often it was able to maintain a connection until a web or app test was completed.
When a 4G signal was available O2 enjoyed initial connection rates of 98.4% or higher, which is pretty impressive, but that dropped to a maximum of 91.3% when 4G wasn’t available and as low as 69.4% in Edinburgh.
In terms of completing tasks O2 managed this over 99% of the time in all 4G markets, with results falling below 80% in ten of the sixteen markets when 4G wasn’t available and never exceeding 90%. That’s not so impressive, but EE also struggled when 4G wasn’t available, so O2 isn’t alone in this.
O2’s single highest recorded top speed during RootMetrics tests was 64.7Mbps in London and it came very close to that in Coventry with 64.5Mbps. Those are both far faster than you can typically get on any UK 4G network but they’re still around a third slower than EE’s top speed.
However O2’s median speeds are more useful to know, as they’re representative of what you’re likely to experience.
Here too O2 trailed EE in almost all markets, but it notably managed to best its rival in Coventry, where EE achieved a median of 20.5Mbps while O2 managed 21.7Mbps.
It also achieved over 10Mbps in all markets where 4G was available and over 15Mbps in many of them. However Coventry was the only place with a median speed of over 20Mbps on O2, which compares poorly to EE which managed this in 12 markets and even Vodafone which managed 3. Three however never achieved a median speed of above 20Mbps.
O2 didn’t impress much for speed when 4G wasn’t available, never exceeding a median download speed of 3Mbps and falling to below 1Mbps in Edinburgh, Hull and Leeds, so the difference between the experience on O2 4G and 3G is substantial. For combined 3G and 4G performance O2 offers solid speeds, but still trails EE by a wide margin.
O2 could soon be a serious threat to EE, as its coverage is increasing rapidly and while its speeds aren’t as high they’re far from slow. That’s before we even consider the implications of its buyout by Three, which could also boost the network substantially.
However EE still undeniably has it beat in most locations and most ways for now and O2’s poor performance when 4G isn’t available is a little worrying.
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