June 4, 2014

OpenSignal reports strong mobile data availability on trains and roads

OpenSignal reports strong mobile data availability on trains and roadsRoad and rail mobile network coverage report – 4G coverage improves

The focus with 4G tends to be on its availability in towns, cities and other places where people live and work, but what can sometimes be neglected is the transports routes between these places. Many people have long daily commutes where 3G and especially 4G could be a real boon, so ensuring that mobile data is readily available on major roads and railways is incredibly important.

One of the reasons that this isn’t often reported on is that until recently it’s been hard to accurately judge 4G coverage on transport routes, but with the help of 40,000 UK OpenSignal users we’re starting to get a clear picture.

Looking at motorways, EE is unsurprisingly leading the way for 4G, with 54.9% 4G coverage across UK motorways. The other networks are way behind, with Vodafone having 36.4% coverage, O2 getting 34.5% and Three coming in with just 21.3% coverage. The overall average coverage across networks is 36.8%, so there’s a lot of work to do.

Thankfully it’s something that the networks and EE in particular are working on, as EE recently announced that it would focus on increasing its 4G coverage on major roads, as well as bringing 4G to more airports, service stations and train stations.

However while EE is leading for 4G coverage on motorways it’s not the best network for overall mobile data coverage on motorways. That honour goes to Three, which can get a 3G or 4G signal 92% of the time, though given its low 4G coverage it will mostly be a 3G signal.

EE comes second with a 3G or 4G signal 81% of the time on motorways, that’s followed by O2 with a connection 67% of the time and then Vodafone with one 65% of the time. Overall across the networks users can get a mobile data connection 76% of the time on motorways.

Perhaps the best news is that there are very few areas on motorways where no signal is available at all, with every network having a 2G, 3G or 4G signal over 95% of the time.

Surprisingly 4G coverage on A roads seems to be marginally better, with a signal available 37% of the time overall. EE’s A road coverage is slightly worse than its motorway coverage, coming in at 47.5%, but the other networks fare a little better. Vodafone has a 4G connection 41.3% of the time, O2 37.5% and Three 21.6%.

Three once again leads the way for combined 3G and 4G signal, with users getting one or the other 87% of the time, compared to 67% on EE, 61% on O2 and 55% on Vodafone, for an overall average of 67%.

The amount of areas with no signal at all is slightly higher than on motorways, with O2 doing the best here and reporting a total signal absence 6.2% of the time, while Vodafone is the worst with no 2G, 3G or 4G signal 7.0% of the time.

Railways have slightly more consistent 4G coverage than roads. Overall a 4G signal is available 40.1% of the time across the networks, while EE trumps the overall average with a signal available 53.2% of the time, then comes Vodafone with 43.2% coverage, O2 with 38.6% and Three with 25.5%.

Three’s combined 3G and 4G coverage is just as good for rail as road, with the network having mobile internet of some kind 89% of the time, while EE follows with coverage 73% of the time, then O2 with 66% and Vodafone with 61%, for an overall average of 72%.

The amount of time with no signal is quite low too, coming out better than A roads but worse than motorways at an average of no 2G, 3G or 4G 6% of the time.

There are several things to take away from this. Three’s overall mobile internet presence is the greatest whatever means of transport you’re using, but its 4G availability is the worst, so users will mostly be stuck on a 3G signal. EE meanwhile is making great inroads with bringing 4G coverage to major roads and railways but the other networks have a lot of work to do there.

It’s vital work too as people increasingly expect and hope to be able to get work done on trains, while cars are becoming ever more connected and we’re heading towards a future of self-driving cars, which will need an internet connection at all times. Then of course there’s the desirability of being able to stream music and videos when on the move to provide entertainment on journeys.

But given that 4G is still a fairly young technology the data gathered by OpenSignal is promising and we’re hopeful that not too long from now a 4G connection on roads and railways will be normal and expected.

Looking to find out more about 4G coverage in the UK?