/ Technology

Update: are you peeved about patchy mobile data access?

Mobile data may be your lifeline for carrying out everyday tasks, or it maybe it’s something you only use on the rare occasion. Trouble is that data signal coverage across the UK is patchy. So, how important is mobile data access to you?

When discussing the decommissioning of public pay phones recently, a number of Which? Conversation community members explained how mobile connectivity is still a major problem for them. We even heard stories of some people having to carry two mobile phones around on different networks to ensure they always have signal.

But increasingly, people aren’t using mobiles for only phone calls and texts, people now rely on their mobiles as personal computers.

In fact,¬†he internet is accessed more on mobile devices than on laptops and PCs – and this makes 3G and 4G signal an ever-increasing ‚Äėmust have‚Äô for mobile phone users. The reality is we expect to be completely connected with the ability to surf the web, as much as make a call.

Keeping connected

However, the latest research from Which? and Opensignal found that, just like phone signal, people across the UK are struggling to access mobile data.

In fact, Wales is the worst region for mobile 4G signal accessibility in the UK, where users could only access 4G 35.4% of the time. In Scotland, mobile users were able to access a 4G signal 50.4% of the time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, London came out top, with mobile users able to access a 4G signal 69.7% of the time, and Yorkshire and Humberside coming in second, with access 61.3% of the time.

Interestingly however, London has the slowest 4G connection with a speed of 18.8Mbps, compared to 23Mbps in Northern Ireland (even though you can only get a signal there 58.5% of the time!).

The research also concluded that EE was the company with the most reliable 4G connection (64.1% of the time), and it was also the fastest, with a whopping 28Mbps download speed.

Regional data for 4G speed/availability

Region Average 4G availability Average 4G Speed
London 69.7% 18.8Mbps
Yorkshire & Humberside 61.3% 22.8Mbps
North East 60.3% 20.1Mbps
Northern Ireland 58.5% 23.3Mbps
North West 54.8% 20.6Mbps
South East 54.3% 21.9Mbps
West Midlands 52.3% 21.6Mbps
Scotland 50.4% 21.1Mbps
East Midlands 49.9% 22.8Mbps
East of England 48.9% 22.3Mbps
South West 45.7% 20.9Mbps
Wales 35.4% 21.7Mbps

Networks 4G Speed/availability in the UK

Networks Average 4G speed Average 4G availability
3 24.5Mbps 43.7%
EE 28Mbps 64.1%
O2 16.2Mbps 60.0%
Vodafone 18Mbps 60.1%

Update: 3 May 2017

Just months after the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) ranked the UK as being 54th in the world for 4G mobile signal coverage, new data produced by OpenSignal for Which? has mapped the best cities for 4G signal.

Of the 20 cities mapped/researched, Middlesbrough was the best city for 4G access with a signal available 82.7% of the time, whereas Bournemouth came bottom with access 67.5% of the time.

The average overall 4G availability across the UK is 65%, meaning mobile users who are dependent on a 4G service have access for only two-thirds of the time.

This study also identified differences in download speed across UK cities and found that Stoke-on-Trent was the city with the fastest speeds, whereas Brighton has the slowest.

Our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, said:

‚ÄėThese latest findings underline the need for Ofcom to keep the pressure on mobile operators, so that every part of the country gets a decent service on their mobile phone. Our mobile phone is central to how we live our lives and that is why it is so frustrating when we can‚Äôt access emails or browse the internet on the go.‚Äô

Over to you

So, we want to know, how important is data connectivity to you? Do you consider data access when you’re buying a mobile phone? And how do you use mobile data?


My wife and I use O2 and Tesco respectively – O2 and Tesco use the same network. We used to get good 4G coverage at home but recently phone use has become impossible. Tesco have been looking at this problem for over three weeks and have not come up with a solution but O2 came up with a simple fix in a couple of hours – change back to 3G. And it has worked for both of us.

We have giffgaff (new Samsung phone) and o2 (old Nokia phone) both on the o2 network.

The o2 phone always seems get a better signal than the giffgaff phone.

I have been wondering, do companies operating on the backs of main providers get the same level of signal and coverage as the main network provider?

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At least Giffgaff make it clear about their unlimited data service: “*Speed restrictions apply to our Always On data after 6GB of data usage.”

If you are criticised for being too technical, maybe the answer is to summarise key points and give some links to help anyone who might want detailed information.

I looked at MVNOs a few years ago but at the time they did not all offer a 4G service. We have moved on.

Putting both phones together, the 2G Nokia on o2 has 4 notches of signal, the 4G (probably working as 3G) Samsung has 1 notch.

You can download an app to boost o2 but it won’t work on giffgaff or a Symbian operating system.

Data usage at home is not a problem as it would use my home broadband.

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I think you mentioned this before, Duncan. Though I regularly use mobile data, I would have thought that the first priority would be to make and receive phone calls.

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Typically, a giffgaff calls and data package costs about half the price of an equivalent O2 one.

So anyone who wants (or needs) the best possible service from the O2 network should subscribe to O2 not giffgaff.

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Would just be nice to have a phone signal!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I lived before all this Tech and I know how to manage without it .Very useful but people depend on it when it is never reliable at all .Slow down do not rush through life not everything needs to happen at once most can usually wait a short time .Do not depend on just one thing , think and consider the alternatives there quite often more than one

Never mind data coverage, I don’t even get a mobile phone signal except for sporadically on my landing if pointed in the right direction! and I live on the edge of a town in NE Wales, not out in the wilds! and it’s deteriorated in the last three years from selective signal downstairs to this! We need better in this part of town and the providers won’t help with wifi calling equipment unless we’re on a contract! I’m with EE, but no provider gives any better coverage that I can find.