Faster isn’t always better – O2

With a new Opensignal report suggesting O2 has the slowest download speeds of the UK MNOs, the telco has hit back suggesting experience is about more than just speed.

According to the report, O2 has the largest proportion of customers experiencing slower speeds across the UK. This is down to a number of different factors, one of which is how spectrum holdings have shaped 4G deployment strategies.

The image below outlines what percentage of customers are experiencing different speeds across all the UK MNOs.

Openreach 1

While this might not paint the prettiest of pictures for O2, the telco has pointed out faster is not necessarily better.

“O2’s network deployment is focussed on customer experience and demand rather than maximum capabilities of certain aspects of network performance such as download speeds,” an O2 spokesperson said. “Some of the most popular mobile applications such as playing the game Fornite or streaming high definition content from Netflix require around 3-5 Mbps.”

Such is the obsession with speed, the entire telco industry is built on the concept of ‘bigger, faster, meaner’. Performance of telcos are measured on average speeds, however, one should perhaps question what speeds are necessary to produce the desired customer experience. Sometimes 10 Mbps is all that is required.

“We continue to invest £2m every day to improve the network experience for our customers as well as using a combination of technical and customer insight to gauge how well the network is performing and how satisfied customers are with their service. For the second year running O2 recently won uSwitch’s 2019 award for best network coverage as voted by the public and continues to have among the lowest levels of churn in Europe.”

In fairness to O2, you can’t argue with the numbers. In terms of market share, O2 is the leading telco in the UK. It must be doing something right otherwise how would it maintain this position? It isn’t the cheapest, the fastest or one which can offer any sort of convergence offering.

This second image from Opensignal indicates the spectrum holdings which are being utilised by each of the telcos.

Openreach 2

As you can see O2 is heavily reliant on the sub-1 GHz bands. The advantage of this band is greater range and better indoor coverage, though there is a trade-off when it comes to speed. And while some might complain about the lack of horse-power, it doesn’t seem to matter than much at the end of the day.

In the last financial results, O2 boasted of year-on-year revenue growth of 5.3%, a total subscription increase of 2.3% and customer churn of 0.9%, the lowest in the market, it claims.

What is worth noting is this is relevant for today. This might seem like an incredibly obvious statement, but developers are constantly bringing out new applications which test the boundaries of acceptability. Video and more immersive gaming content are ensuring demands on the network, and capable speeds, are a constant threat.

For the moment, this position from O2 seems perfectly sustainable, but how long the status quo lasts remains to be seen. Speed is not necessarily the defining factor of experience today, as long as fast is fast enough.


  1. Avatar Daniel Wallace 29/11/2020 @ 8:50 pm

    Honestly it does matter. I am on o2 paying £37,99 a month and I get download speeds of between 1.2-3meg indoors whilst my partner on a different network gets speeds up to 75mb on a £9 tariff.
    I never get speeds above 4megs and in Birmingham.
    O2 is truly awful and the price they charge for what is not even 3G speeds is unjustifiable. Can’t wait until contract is up!

  2. Avatar Nick 30/08/2021 @ 8:42 pm

    It certainly does matter because on O2 the data gets so slow you can’t even have a video call and its so embarrassing when it keeps cutting out and buffering.

    I now have a dual sim phone and the other sim card I have is a BT Mobile sim which runs on EE, both EE and BT Mobile are owned by BT Group, I pay just a fraction of what I do for O2 and I get 5G literally everywhere as standard.

    On O2, the 5G coverage is so limited and patchy that it is non existent everywhere including London.

    When I’ve paid up for the balance of the phone (I’m on O2 refresh) I can cancel at anytime despite it saying a 24 month contract and that’s what I will be doing.

    The O2 5G is also slower than the 4G and if you only have 3G, totally forget using the Internet because O2’s 3G is now so slow it’s unusable.

    Yes speed may not be everything now, but in a years time, O2 will regret saying that especially now that Three and EE are so far in front with 5G deployment.

  3. Avatar Matt 03/07/2022 @ 1:45 am

    I have to agree with Nick, O2’s 4G is unusable from a work perspective. Their 5G is extremely poor compared to the other networks too. With three i’ve seen speeds over 600mbit. With O2 the best I ever saw was 79 mbit and it did that rarely. I’m so glad I left O2 because a few months after buying a three unlimited sim, they only went a stuck a new 5G pole at the end of my road and now I get faster speeds. I hope they will realise that speed is in fact important as well as latency and not passing through 20 different routers to get to the internet. Also they need to come up with a reasonably priced unlimited deal for people like me who cannot get fibre and can only get 22mbit DSL (yes DSL, not VDSL). 5G has literally changed everything for us at home, we can now stream multiple HD streams and even 4K streams. We could not do that with O2 or Vodafone. We could with EE but it was too expensive and they have a fair use policy that just kills it for home broadband use.

  4. Avatar ItsAdam 24/10/2022 @ 11:47 am

    October 2022 Info
    (because this is an old article).

    O2 customer here, upgraded for the Volt deal. Stuck in a contract now too.

    Went from Smarty (3) to O2, was getting around 90mbit during the day and anywhere up to 160mbit at night (3am ish). O2 would only give me 1-2mbit during the day with topping 5mbit at night.

    I had a heart attack and went in to Derby Royal Hospital. Was getting between 0.5mbit and 5mbit depending in my room, l hospital WiFi was a static capped 1mbit.

    Had my brothers bring in a 3 PAYG Sim, stuck £15 on it and bought a 25GB package. I was bursting speeds of up to 650mbit with average over 350-450mbit. Depending where I was.

    I shouldn’t have to pay for mobile Internet (have 80gb on O2) but I did. I was stressed had a heart attack and was in hospital bored and unable to watch netflix or prime because of buffering.

    I see years ago this O2 guy saying 10mbit is enough back then, but pretty much EVERYWHERE I go except for on the motorway I’m limited to 5mbit. So what’s the excuse now?

    They could upgrade my data package to 500gb or even unlimited, I can’t use my 80 because speeds are so painfully slow anyway.

    O2 was always given the more prestigious edge for a network, being above everyone as a long term solid reliable company, especially compared to 3.

    But oh my, my goodness no. 3 are 100x the company O2 ever will be.. And this Volt scam is just there to make more people Join their crippled network.

    I am fully disgusted with O2 and I will not be renewing (it is not worth the free upgrade to Gig1) because when and if im out and about and my young one needs me to tether for YouTube he can’t watch it on O2.. It’s literally that bad… Pathetic!

  5. Avatar ItsAdam 24/10/2022 @ 11:49 am

    @Matt 3 have unlimited 5G broadband for £10 a month atm for i think 6 months, then it’s £20 after, no hardware cost either.

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