/ 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 ‘must have’ 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

RegionAverage 4G availabilityAverage 4G Speed
Yorkshire & Humberside61.3%22.8Mbps
North East60.3%20.1Mbps
Northern Ireland58.5%23.3Mbps
North West54.8%20.6Mbps
South East54.3%21.9Mbps
West Midlands52.3%21.6Mbps
East Midlands49.9%22.8Mbps
East of England48.9%22.3Mbps
South West45.7%20.9Mbps

Networks 4G Speed/availability in the UK

NetworksAverage 4G speedAverage 4G availability

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:

‘These 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’t access emails or browse the internet on the go.’

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?

David Payne says:
20 May 2017

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?


Alfa -both Giffgaff and Tesco plus Cellnet/Lebara work on the o2 network depending on the sim cards. Giffgaff is a mobile online VIRTUAL network operator . Giffgaff customers complain they dont receive the same data bandwidth and availability privileges in a like for like fashion as o2 customers, tethering is restricted . Giffgaff do admit while coverage is good there are some areas where the 3G/4G signal is weak or unobtainable. “Unlimited ” data is advertised but it is a traffic managed system called Traffic Flow -ie- speed restricted to 256Kps (8am-midnight) . I have stuck to basic info here if anybody want deeper tech . info it can be supplied whether it will be of relevance to the general public is another matter as I have been pulled up in the past for being “too technical ” ?


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.


I checked up earlier on 2G Alfa because of complaints from people living in remote areas that they cant pick up -3G and 4G- a pipe dream. the industry has set a target of removing 2G and also 3G by the early 2020,s causing widespread anguish and upset in many places , it is of coarse reliant on HMG being “happy ” about it. You know 2G has a better “spread ” of signal Beryl.


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.


The first priority in the operators eyes is profit Wavechange and, as you know a lot more commercial data can be transmitted via 4G and the latest 5G bringing in many more shekels but although thats the aim it isn’t set in stone due to customer unrest forcing the attention of HMG who, as usual will do a propaganda exercise like the -move to digital radio for a “better ” signal – er –yes ????? but really the same end more commercial data , would you like programmes with your adverts — sir ? Guess what Wavechange ? there is a 5G .co.uk website up already -“power your world -slick ! actually mentioning -2020 and yes HMG is already involved Dept. of “Culture” ( what commercials ?) rolling out to major cities and yes due to higher frequencies more masts will need to go up and limited by any obstruction greater than lower frequencies . Now think money is put into 5G but what about 2G+3G coverage already not that good in rural areas , you can visualise the uproar already. Guess what they even admit rural areas will take a long time to get 5G sounds like FTTP -when we can afford it. : https://5g.co.uk/coverage/