The rankings buck trends, which usually list EE as the UK’s best network, often for its whizzing data speeds. But downloads speeds aren’t as important to consumers as might be expected, GWS found, with consumers prioritising the reliability of voice calls instead.
GWS conducted nearly one million data and voice task tests across the 36 cities as well as in-depth qualitative focus group sessions and YouGov-conducted consumer surveys, to find out which metrics consumers value and expect from their mobile networks.
The surveys found that most of us (eight in 10) expect mobile tasks, such as loading news and other websites, to take between four and six seconds. UK’s four mobile networks hit this benchmark 96% of the time, GWS’s research showed.
However, 56% respondents reported that they “usually” encounter problems with their mobile network. 30% experience websites and apps failing to load. 21% report poor voice quality on calls and 19% calls which don’t connect. Another 19% reported calls which dropped.
GWS found that the reliability and performance of voice calls was two to three times more important to consumers than data speed problems. 44% said calls always connecting was “extremely important” to them, 37% similarly valued calls dropping infrequently, and another 37% similarly prioritised voice call quality. Meanwhile, download and upload speeds were “extremely important” to just 24% and 15% of respondents, respectively.
Perhaps that’s why, when asked to identify just one area for network improvement, 28% wanted to see increased network coverage, while just 8% wanted faster data speeds. And when selecting a new mobile provider, 54% of respondents cited network coverage as an important factor in their decision—more than double the number (26%) who would consider network speed.
With those consumer considerations in mind, GWS named O2 the UK’s most reliable network overall and the top in 18 out of the 36 cities it studied, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford and Sunderland.
EE was the second most reliable network overall and the top performer in 14 cities, including Belfast, Bradford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Manchester.
Three wasn't the best performer in any studied area.
Overall, Liverpool enjoys the most reliable mobile networks in the country, while residents of Leeds experience the worst service.
Dr. Paul Carter, CEO of GWS, said: “The need for speed is an ongoing conversation in the industry and seems to be the de facto benchmark when measuring network success. But that model is broken—while the advance of 5G brings with it exciting innovations that will undoubtedly change the way we use our phones, just like 4G did a few years ago, using your smart phone is not a race.
“Consumers are not just using their phones for speed hungry activities. They use their phones for a wide range of activities—from calls and messaging to life administration tasks and shopping … Speed and reliability need to co-exist and operators need to weave together a complex tapestry, otherwise known as the ‘network,’ to ensure they are delivering on all fronts for consumers, not just speed.”
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