Because consumers never get the chance to put 5G network operators to a comparative test, we conducted our own investigation in London, focusing on download speed results.

Download speed, the most important metric for the mobile video streaming experience, is generally operators’ headline selling point for 5G. With few truly compelling consumer 5G applications or mass market use cases available today, most 5G operators have been forced to launch the technology with a ‘faster’ downstream story. 5G is said to provide download speeds many times faster than 4G, and our testing methodology allowed us to put that promise to the test.

The 5G test kit

Our London-based GlobalData Tester was equipped with an Apple iPhone 12 (standard) and two 5G SIMs from two of the biggest and most mature 5G networks in the UK; EE and Vodafone.

We sent him out to central London to run a series of tests over a standard weekday (Thursday, December 17), with all tests using Netflix’s FAST mobile app for impartiality.

The tests was carried out at 15 locations within Central London: Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Duke of York Street, Burlington Arcade, Bond Street, Carnaby Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Seven Dials, British Museum, St Pauls Cathedral, Liverpool Street, and Tower Bridge.

To get a sense of the scope for download speed variance within a single location, our Tester ran three sets of tests on 5G for each network, with a one-minute resting period between each test – a total of 90 tests over the course of the day. To assure test server impartiality, the FAST App was closed after each test and re-opened again for the next, to allow for an automatic server reselection each time

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Prime locations

As anticipated, 5G coverage across London is highly location-sensitive, and in some cases still patchy. In terms of picking up a 5G signal, EE out-performed Vodafone. Our Tester was able to get a 5G signal in 100% of locations on the EE network, but only 11 out of 15 on the Vodafone network. EE also outperformed Vodafone in terms of both top and average download speeds, although in some cases there was little in it.

EE demonstrated the highest download speed recorded over the day, at 700 Mbps (recorded at Westminster Abbey), whilst its second-highest speed of 540 Mbps at Liverpool Street was also higher than Vodafone’s top download speed test result of 490 Mbps, also recorded at Westminster Abbey.

The average download speed for EE across the total 15 locations over the course of the same weekday was 294 Mbps, with 263Mpbs for Vodafone.

To conclude, there are differences in 5G download speed performance when comparing both network providers, but consistency of experience is still difficult to quantify.

Even moving between two of the nearby locations, Londoners will notice a difference in 5G download performance on the same network, although the experience within the same location, over the course of the three tests, was relatively stable.