In a new report examining the mobile networks relied upon by millions of consumers across 16 of the most populous cities in the UK, London was ranked as the city with the worst mobile performance.
The RootMetrics by IHS Markit report saw other home nations' capitals perform much better – Belfast was ranked as the best city for mobile network performance, with Edinburgh ranked second. Sheffield ranked in third place, followed by Glasgow in fourth, and Manchester in fifth.
Birmingham and Hull propped up the bottom end of the table with the UK capital, ranking 14th and 15th respectively.
Some larger metro areas experienced mixed results, with one of the largest populations in the UK, Birmingham, declining in overall performance rankings, falling from 10th to 14th. It did not end there, with further regressions in reliability call, underlining that being a densely populated city can pose challenges.
Other larger cities performed better: Manchester and Liverpool recorded positive results, finishing higher up in the overall rankings, as did Glasgow. Manchester, in particular, was the best city for call and text, but was unable to top the rankings due to data and network speed performance.
London will need 5G sooner than most
Factors causing London's poor showing include the large number of tall buildings and vast crowds. Tall buildings and structures can create disruptions for network signal as the directional aspect of millimetre waves can be extremely sensitive to various obstacles in the transmission path.
While 4G connectivity in London is more challenging than any other city in the UK, 5G technology will be expected to offer faster speeds and higher capacity and address some of the issues related to performance in areas with multiple skyscrapers and challenging architecture, as well as congestion in densely populated locations. London is the most likely city to deploy the type of "small cell" infrastructure needed to deliver widespread 5G coverage, and this is likely to alter the city performance rankings substantially in the future.
Head of Product at RootMetrics and Executive Director of Performance Benchmark at IHS Markit, Kevin Hasley said: "As the capital city and business epicenter of the UK, you would expect connectivity that is equal to or better than rivals, but that hasn't been the case to this point. 5G may well be the cure London needs, but currently, performance in other cities like Belfast and Edinburgh has been stronger. It will be interesting to see how the cities at the top end of the rankings encourage investment in new infrastructure to support 5G and thus maintain their dominance."
Edinburgh and Belfast lead the way
Belfast climbed to the top of overall rankings largely due to leading results in network reliability and data performance. Belfast's ascension to the top position was largely due to improved download speeds from three out of four carriers and strong call and data reliability results across the networks. Edinburgh impressively recorded top three finishes in four categories and improved its showing in overall performance, rising from number 8 to number 2 since the previous report. Additionally, all mobile operators' performance in the city remained steady in comparison to previous rounds of testing.
RootMetrics measured mobile networks for overall performance (a combination of data, call, and text results), network reliability and speed, data performance, and call and text performance.
The latest Metro area rankings report follows the most scientific and comprehensive survey of mobile network performance, conducted by RootMetrics by IHS Markit, which revealed EE as the leader in mobile network performance across the UK, winning all six mobile performance categories tested.