GWS: London’s 5G networks deliver on throughput, disappoint on latency
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), a mobile network benchmarking firm, has released the results of its first test of EE, O2 and Vodafone’s 5G networks in London.

GWS observed download task throughputs above 350 Mbps on EE’s (at various locations), while O2 and Vodafone both experienced download task throughputs above 200 Mbps. Speeds varied significantly across the capital, with spikes of ‘super-fast connectivity’ at some locations; with instantaneous peaks of more than 470 Mbps on EE’s network recorded near St Paul’s Cathedral, 330Mbps on O2 at Victoria Station and more than 320Mbps on Vodafone in Belgrave Square. Upload speeds saw maximum task throughputs of more than 60Mbps for Vodafone, and more than 30Mbps for both EE and O2.

Overall, operators were able to complete 35 per cent per cent of the data tasks at download speeds above 100Mbps and 46 per cent of the tasks at upload speeds above 20Mbps. These speeds are three to four times faster than that observed by GWS during previous 4G testing in London.

However, the average latencies observed by GWS during the test period were no different from those often experienced on 4G networks (typically 35-50ms).

The testing took place across London from November 6th through the 8th, 2019 using Samsung Galaxy 5G phones in conjunction with GWS’s OneMeasure diagnostic app.

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GWS notes that O2 and EE each have deployed 40MHz of 5G bandwidth compared to Vodafone’s 50MHz. All three operators have currently deployed 5G in the 3.4GHz band in a non-standalone capacity (which depends on the control plane of an existing LTE network for control functions), without the use of millimetre wave frequencies. The company adds that given differing 5G and 4G spectrum resources, antenna configurations, backhaul and 5G deployment locations (per operator), the 5G user experience across London can vary dramatically.

Given that initial commercial 5G masts are typically deployed at existing 4G sites and that the 3.4GHz band being used for 5G is at a higher frequency than those used for 4G, which propagates less far, GWS states that the current level of 5G availability of 5G is likely to be more limited than consumers might expect and frequent drop downs to 4G will occur.

Paul Carter, GWS’s CEO (pictured above), said: “In the early stages of 5G deployment in London, the speeds we witnessed indicate signs of good things to come for consumers that have a 5G phone – especially in comparison to what we have observed in previous 4G tests. As part of our own additional qualitative research, we discovered that consumers have (over the past 6-7 years since 4G was launched) come to consider the performance of 4G as the new minimum technology standard. Although still in its early stages, 5G technology will likely very quickly follow suit as the new normal in the future, so the potential is indeed exciting.

“However, the development of any new network is never an instantaneous process, and the rollout of 5G across the UK with its promise of ultrafast, super-reliable connectivity will be a more gradual shift towards these advanced capabilities. For the time-being, 5G will involve a ‘mesh’ of both next-generation and existing networks all working together to deliver consistent coverage to customers. It’s also clear that the route to ubiquitous 5G coverage is not going to be without its hurdles, with each operator experiencing unique challenges dependent on how the various components of their next-generation networks are designed. The spikes in the test data reveal that promises of faster speeds can be delivered, but ultimately, it’s the consistency and reliability that is most important to consumers.

“Based on the limited number of sites with 5G antennas combined with the distance constraints of higher frequency 5G signals, it’s going to be a challenge to get 5G access in buildings. Given that the [MNOs] have a significant rollout ahead of them to fully realise the potential of 5G, we might also benefit from a review of restrictions governing signal mast height and placement to allow more antenna sites in more convenient locations, rather than just placing them on rooftops. As the test has shown, we need only look at the potential benefits that next-generation network connectivity can bring to see why it’s important to do so.”


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