MAJOR UK NETWORKS EE and Vodafone both launched their respective 5G services across a handful of different cities at the beginning of summer, with the latter switching on its 5G network just weeks after EE went live on 30 May.
Both operators are now offering super-speedy 5G connectivity across London, Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham, with EE opting for an additional two (Edinburgh and Belfast) to make six, and Vodafone covering three more (Bristol, Glasgow, and Liverpool) to make seven.
5G promises average speeds of 150-200Mbps compared to the 23-35Mbps on 4G. But as expected, early reception is patchy even in the cities where 5G has been activated, with areas just outside of city centres not picking it up at all.
Even then, for those that are living in areas able to pick up a 5G signal, the speeds are not representative of its full potential. When it has matched the coverage that 4G has now, 5G is expected to reach a speed of 20Gbps with < 1ms latency. Although don't hold your breath as that could be several years away.
But nevermind what's going to happen in years to come, we want to know - right now - which operator offers the best signal coverage and speeds.
We took two Samsung Galaxy S10 5G edition handsets out and about with us in London to test just how well the 5G connectivity worked, which network proved the most reliable, and more importantly, the fastest.
Both phones in the test were exactly the same model and were charged fully but one had a EE 5G SIM and the other a Vodafone 5G SIM. We installed the Fast app, which tests - in real-time - the download speeds currently available to the device it is installed on. Once at the different locations, we took a photograph of each device after the Fast app had completed its testing with a final average result of the download speed in Mbps.
Did the results live up to the promises of the respective operators? We visited six different spots around central London to find out. (NB. the EE phone is the top photo and Vodafone is the bottom for each area)
West End - Soho
Super central in London is where both operators are supposed to get the best possible 5G network range. So how did they both do?
Well, while Vodafone clocked up a rather impressive 130Mbps, EE blew it out of the water with a score of 170Mbps.
North London - Angel
This test was conducted right outside Angel tube station on Islington high street. While both operators struggled to connect to a super-fast 5G service, EE came back with a very poor test result of just 3Mbps - it could barely find 4G. Vodafone, on the other hand, proved the stronger of the two with a 99Mbps score. May we note that we did this test several times and this was the best result out of the lot for both operators.
Central West London - Holborn
The crossroads just north of Holborn station are some of the busiest in the city, linking Camden in the north to Covent Garden and Angel and the West End. It comes at no surprise, then, that such an important space garnered the most impressive results. It was also one of the closest tests we did the entire day. While Vodafone produced an incredible 210Mbps 5G speed, EE went just that bit further and gave us a mammoth speed of 230Mbps. So if you're ever stuck in a traffic jam at that intersection in the future, at least you know you'll be able to get some super speedy 4K movie downloading done.
Central East London: Farringdon
Smithfields near Farringdon station is a great area to visit if you're in need of some red meat fresh from the butchers. Turns out, it's also a great spot for a 5G signal. Who'd have thought? But which operator proved the fastest? This one was much closer than the rest. While Vodafone scored a speed of 130Mbps, EE, again, pipped it to the post with a score of 160Mbps.
South London - Southwark
Hanging out at night time in between Waterloo station and The Shard, EE gave us a nice and juicy 190Mbps 5G speed. And Vodafone? Was less than half the speed of its competitor, receiving a signal speed score of 86Mbps.
North East London - Hoxton (Home)
Carrying out a test at the comfort of our own home a little further out in Zone 2, north-east London, we found that Vodafone was unable to connect to 5G at all, presenting us with a score of just 11Mbps. EE, on the other hand, was able to connect to 5G but (judging by the speeds we received) was clinging on for dear life, offering us a speed of 94Mbps.
Overall winner: EE
Winning five out of six tests around the UK capital, it seems EE is the clear winner here in terms of 5G speeds. In the six places we tested the connectivity, EE was pretty much always the faster of the two. Nevertheless, it's still all just a little early to tell yet who will prove to be the best in the long run.
As we'll talk about more below, pricing is verging on unreasonable at the moment for both networks' 5G packages and the handset range on offer remains limited.
While EE seems to win in the 5G speed stakes, you'll be paying for it. Pricing is exceptionally steep at the moment, with tariffs starting at £54 per month, with a £170 up-front cost for the phone. And that's for just 10GB of data, not much for all those lovely 4K movies we're being encouraged to download in a few seconds.
As for Vodafone, things seem a little more accessible. The network is offering three so-called 'unlimited' SIM-only plans that are based on speeds rather than the amount of data you guzzle; a £23 'Unlimited Lite' plan will offer max speeds of 2Mbps, a £26 'Unlimited' tariff will top-out at 10Mbps and for, £30, the operator is also offering an ‘Unlimited Max' plan that offers what it's calling the "fastest speeds".
However, if you opt for a Vodafone contract, things get just as pricey. It's offering the Galaxy S10 5G on Vodafone starts from £60 per month with a £49 upfront cost on a 5GB data plan.
It's not just the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G handset that can be purchased alongside a 5G SIM. Vodafone is only offering 5G plans with two handsets: the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G, while EE has a slightly wider range, with special 5G versions of devices from OnePlus, Samsung, Oppo and LG. However, all that is set to change shortly as more devices are launched over the coming months that are 5G-ready in time for the holidays. µ
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