Which UK operator has best network?


With smartphone popularity expected to double in the next two years, network quality is an increasingly key selling point for operators. But UK operators appear unable to agree upon what precisely makes  a good quality network.

Difficulty arises because operators judge their networks according to different measures, which tend to favour them in the final analysis. Each appears to take data available only to them, or research commissioned exclusively by them, to make their assessment.

And, for instance, their field work to measure network speeds against competitors’ is highly subjective, and depends upon traffic volumes on respective infrastructure at testing.

Nevertheless, Vodafone claims its field testing shows its network is best. 3, which appears to take a more moderate view, claims third-party tests by researcher 3GPP finds its infrastructure is “comparable”.

And O2, which has come under fire for its network quality, reckons a survey by market analyst SIRODA shows its 3G network to be the best. (Although the same study found Vodafone recorded fastest download speeds in five of the UK’s 20 major cities, compared with O2 in four.)

Ovum analyst Steven Hartley says of such ‘independent’ network claims, and the debate in general: “It’s a very murky area. How do you differentiate quality?”

He sums up the confusion: “Orange had a big campaign around 3G coverage before Christmas. But T-Mobile and 3 claim the same thing. How can they all be right?

“And Vodafone is arguing about network ‘quality’ in general. What does that mean? It’s very difficult to measure. There are various testing bodies, but they tend to be sponsored by the operator so prove nothing ultimately.”

Industry expert Tony Fish, a consultant who has worked with operators on issues with mobile data, reckons the question of which network has the best infrastructure is “impossible” to answer, as no fair and independent testing has been conducted – to measure each in equivalent circumstances, in a broad range of settings that fairly reflect customer usage.

He adds: “You can judge 2G quality more easily because you are measuring voice and text messaging. You gauge the quality of a line by when a call drops. 3G is very different. You have data services – real-time applications like Twitter, Facebook and email, which are always updating. 

“The network gets easily burdened in a busy area like Oxford Street, where everyone is using the data network, and cell sites and base stations get filled with traffic and the experience suffers. But it’s more difficult to measure.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 463 (May 10, 2010).

To subscribe to Mobile News click here