UK mobile users satisfied with download speeds

Most customers of UK mobile operators are satisfied with the speeds they are getting for their everyday mobile activities and are not looking to change operator , according to a study from mobile network benchmarking specialist GWS.

For its research, GWS principally sourced data during a six-month test period from 1 July to 31 December 2023 using its Magnify mobile intelligence data platform to collect key insights from consumers participating in its market research programme, with data anonymously collected from Android smartphones 24/7.

In addition to collecting network performance and app engagement data, GWS surveyed participating consumers to understand sentiment and perception. This survey was conducted during the month of January 2024, with a total response size of 2,951.

By combining real-life mobile usage analytics data with consumer polling, GWS said that the network sweet spot, or the point at which consumer demands for network mobile speeds match what operators deliver, sits between 1-5 Mbps. Speeds in this “everyday” range allowed the majority of UK mobile users to perform most of their mobile activity in ways they find satisfactory without the need for higher throughputs.

UK mobile users were spending nearly five hours a day (293 minutes) on their phones, with over a quarter of their day spent ‘mobile’ (26%, or 77 minutes on mobile networks) and the remaining 74% (216 minutes) on Wi-Fi networks. This means nearly a third of a consumer’s waking day (31%) is spent on their phones.

Users were found to be spending 43% of their daily mobile screen time on social media and browsing apps alone. People spend half of their daily mobile time on just 10 apps, accounting for 41 minutes (54%) of all mobile use per day in the UK, with Facebook at the top, followed by Chrome Browser, WhatsApp, Google Maps, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Gmail and Snapchat.

Over half of users (56%) said they did not mind whether they are receiving 4G or 5G coverage, so long as they could complete the task at hand. Even for the 44% that find 5G important, the survey revealed that “life still goes on” for a majority of this group when they don’t get a 5G signal, meaning that they continue on with their tasks using whatever connection they have rather than wait until they are in 5G coverage. This was despite the UK having some of the lowest download speeds among G7 companies.

Just over two-thirds of UK mobile users (69%) were loyal to their network, staying with their current operator for more than two years. Some 29% were on long-term contracts, 31% on SIM-only contracts, 20% on rolling plans, and 17% on pay-as-you-go. 

Yet despite general satisfaction, 24% of users are considering changing providers this year. Topping the list of reasons why they were contemplating a change is cost, with 38% feeling that their current plan was too expensive. After cost, 31% said they were looking to change network due to poor signal and blackspots, and another 29% were looking for better bundle deals.  Far fewer (21%) said they wanted to change due to slow network speeds.

Although operators were hitting the sweet spot when it comes to speed, coverage reliability continues to be the primary network-related pain point, with a majority of UK mobile customers (64%) reporting that they are still experiencing several reliability issues a week. Looking at the performance of individual operators, Three UK registered the highest number of customers reporting frequent issues with their network coverage, followed by EE. Vodafone customers reported the fewest issues with their network coverage across the course of a week, followed by VMO2.

When consumers experienced some coverage issues with mobile networks, 40% will only use public Wi-Fi as a last resort. Only 22% will use a public Wi-Fi because they are concerned about their mobile data usage, and only 13% would use public Wi-Fi because they think it’s faster.

“Our network testing data shows that operators are capable of providing throughputs broadly averaging 45Mbps, which is more than 10 times higher than the ‘everyday’ range required. The sweet spot we’ve found is much lower, but still enables people to do what they need to while mobile,” said GWS CEO Paul Carter.

“When it comes to how we use our phones, consumer demands are clear – they just want their phones to work when they want and for whatever activity they are doing. This doesn’t mean they need super high speeds all the time.

“Of course, delivering higher network speeds drives could drive a better experience and is important for certain activities, which will be increasingly critical in the future when 5G will have a very important role to play in everything from autonomous cars to telehealth. But the reality is that, right now, we don’t need blazing-fast mobile speeds all the time for the ways that most people are currently using their phones throughout the day,” he added. 

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