The 5G Landscape in Europe: Lessons for Emerging Markets

The 5G Landscape in Europe: Lessons for Emerging Markets

A new report from connectivity testing company MedUX has found that London's 5G network speeds and performance fall significantly behind those of other major European capitals.

The 5G Quality of Experience benchmarking study reveals that in 2023, out of 10 cities tested, London ranked last across key metrics such as speed, reliability and overall user experience.

The report shows that Londoners suffer from both lower download and uplink speeds compared to their European counterparts. The city's average download speed of 143 Mbps is 75% lower than best-in-class Lisbon at 528 Mbps, and considerably lower than that of its European peers with Porto at 446 Mbps and 326 Mbps for Barcelona. Munich in Germany, the second-worst city for 5G download speeds, had average download speed of 259 Mbps.

The company also adds that London has the second lowest reliability (service consistency) and accessibility (time-to-content) scores across Europe. This means that for 5G users in London, accessing websites will take longer than in Europe, watching movies on the go is more likely to result in lagging and drop outs and anyone gaming is more likely be frustrated by slow response times.

This is in stark contrast to Berlin, which has emerged as Europe’s 5G performance leader. Berlin's success in 5G deployment is attributed to several factors, with the report giving the German capital an overall Quality of Experience (QoE) score of 4.69 out of 5.

MedUX says the city boasts the highest 5G coverage among European cities, with 89.6% of its population having access to 5G. This extensive coverage is complemented by Berlin's network consistency and low latency. Its 5G infrastructure provides Europe’s best overall 5G streaming experience, with an average latency of less than 40 milliseconds.

MedUX Chief Marketing Officer Rafael Galarreta pointed to the UK’s decision to ban Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G infrastructure as a possible reason behind London’s lagging 5G network.

“This delayed deployment has likely affected overall coverage, availability, and user experience, particularly considering that the Huawei ban came after the initial rollout had already commenced,” Galarreta told CNBC.

UK telecoms operator BT Group estimated it would cost around £500 million over 5 years to remove existing Huawei gear and replace it with other vendors' equipment. The lack of suitable vendors and the right equipment to replace Huawei gear has been a major issue. Such added capital costs and distractions for telecom operators like BT and Vodafone appear to have slowed London's 5G rollout at a critical time. In contrast, Germany has based its decisions on which vendor to use in its networks on the equipment’s technological capabilities and internationally recognised security standards.

German operator Deutsche Telekom has also won the Mobile network test in Germany for the thirteenth time, with an outstanding rating. The annual test held by German magazine Connect, in partnership with Umlaut (an Accenture company) is regarded as one of the most important and widely recognised benchmarks in the industry. Deutsche Telekom led in all urban and rural regions in all categories bar one, hitting 99% and over in all categories.

More broadly across the continent, the EU has set up a program called the ‘2030 Digital Compass’, which sets out a vision for the EU to successfully achieve a digital transition by 2030. As part of the proposal, it stipulates that by 2030, “All European households will be covered by a Gigabit network, with all populated areas covered by 5G.”

The EU's Digital Compass is an ambitious plan for digital transformation and inclusion. Faster data speeds, lower latency, and increased connectivity are essential to achieving almost every goal outlined in the plan. The mechanism for tracking the progress of this ambition is a system looks at “a structured, transparent and shared monitoring system based on the European Union’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) to measure progress towards each of the 2030 targets.”

However, using the EU’s own measure, on the DESI chart showing overall 5G coverage, the bottom 5 ranking countries are all countries which have placed some degree of restriction on Huawei.

DESI Chart 1

Source: EU Commission, 2023. DESI 2023 dashboard for the Digital Decade.

DESI Chart 2

The 19th European 5G Observatory report, a website supported by the European Commission, which analyses the latest figures measuring achievements towards EU 5G targets, also shows these 5 countries at the bottom of their ranking table.

Fair Competition or Further Delay?

Restricting fair competition goes against the EU’s rules, whereas competition between companies benefits customers and spurs companies to innovate. The right for mobile operators to choose the equipment used in their networks, based on its technical capabilities and verified security standards is essential to ensure that they can offer customers the best quality of user experience, no matter where in Europe they are.

Ongoing Huawei restrictions continue to hold back the UK's 5G roll-out with additional costs and delays looking likely. That leaves Londoners suffering the consequences, facing slow and unreliable service. So, whether it's video calls with friends, online shopping, navigating with augmented reality maps, streaming content or gaming on the move, Londoners are getting a raw deal.

The report highlights the impact on users that politically motivated and overly restrictive regulation can produce. This goes a long way to explaining why many European commentators view London as cautionary tale for future 5G delivery.


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