Knowing your current level of connectivity is a vital part of planning and implementation of increased network coverage in your Borough. Equally important is the ability to be able to measure and monitor performance over a longer period to understand changes, big or small.
Understanding actual network coverage and capacity (or lack thereof) from a user perspective in an area can be used to encourage operators to accelerate their plans, and evaluate which operator is best when procuring connectivity solutions to effectively facilitate remote learning and other initiatives to close the digital divide.

Gaist provides the best insight into critical road infrastructure available anywhere in the world by harnessing powerful proprietary data capture and analysis. Gaist annually completes a range of traffic speed surveys based on the capture of georeferenced High Definition (HD) image maps of roads and their adjacent footways (the roadscape). A wide range of data points and complex insights are extracted from the roadscape using a sophisticated combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Human Inspection.

We currently provide c120,000km of highway data p.a. on behalf of over 60 Highway Authorities (towns, cities and whole counties) and are currently undertaking a survey of all 15,000km of highway network inside the M25. By combining this with our bespoke mobile network testing offer we can provide massive increases in sample data densification compared with crowd sourced data at a fraction of the cost of dedicated drive testing.

The Challenge
The importance of measuring the growth of connected communities with the right data in the right places.

In today’s digital society, where everything from retail payment terminals, home appliances, wearable health monitors, public and private transport to the myriad applications on our personal mobile devices are connected, it is imperative to have access to the right data and the right insights in the right places.

As connected communities continue to expand and thrive, the expansion of 5G coverage fuels that growth, data and intelligence from Gaist can provide and evidence base to help inform decisions. Whether a local authority is deciding where to add a new smart meter on a particular street or a government agency is monitoring the progress of a project as widespread as the Digital UK, our data can help answer several key questions:

• How ready is an urban or rural area for the implementation of connected IoT applications?
• How should businesses, industries, and operators prioritise issues and improvements that matter most to users?
• How much 5G coverage is present in a given area?
• How fast and reliable is the 5G that is available?
• How and where can networks expand their 5G footprints as they continue to power our connected communities?
• How do the networks compare in terms of speed, latency, or reliability?
• How has performance trended over time?
• Which operator should consumers choose for their particular mobile needs?
• Which companies across the ecosystem should form partnerships, and where?
Ultimately, expanding connectivity efficiently and effectively requires understanding current coverage and performance in specific locations.
In partnership with Rootmetrics, Gaist helped address several key connectivity questions in Sandwell by conducting scientifically based data performance tests while driving over 434 kilometres across the area, collecting test samples over 86 square kilometres, and conducing nearly 21,000 total tests over a 12-day period.

The Solution
Network performance testing in practice: West Midland 5G – Sandwell

West Midlands 5G (WM5G) is a multi-million-pound programme that both the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have established to develop the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed, with one of its key objectives to accelerate 5G across the region of the West Midlands, England. The primary purpose of the performance data is to determine the availability of 5G to support test use cases.

Partnering with Rootmetrics allowed Gaist to provide WM5G with accurate network coverage and performance insights down to the street level in Sandwell.

“The detailed 5G coverage data received from the Sandwell trial allowed WM5G to successfully assess the feasibility of important use case trials in the area. Coverage information is vital to inform not only use cases but to really understand the impact of deployment of 5G in the region. One of WM5G’s key objectives is to accelerate the roll out of 5G in the West Midlands, and this innovative solution provided by RootMetrics really helps to inform our success.”

Rhys Enfield – Director of Infrastructure Acceleration at WM5G

The density of our test sample collection in Sandwell reached a level that had never been seen before, with tests conducted on every single road in Sandwell, providing organisations in the area with key insights and data on each operator’s network down to the street level. The full power of our approach is displayed in the maps below, which show where tests were conducted both before and after to measure performance in Sandwell. As you can see, the difference in sample density is stark.

Data collected in Sandwell (2H 2019)

Data collected in Sandwell (1H 2020)

EE offers by far the most 5G Coverage in Sandwell

While 5G is clearly showing much faster speeds than those on 4G LTE, those fast 5G speeds are only useful if mobile users can access 5G on a consistent basis. To that end, our testing showed that EE offered by far the most 5G coverage in the area, with 5G availability of 52.8%.

For perspective, the next-highest 5G availability was that of Three, at 12.5%. We recorded 5G results on Vodafone’s network during 2.0% of our tests in Sandwell, while O2 did not offer 5G at the time of testing.

The results of these test are visualised in the images below.

Vodafone clocks the fastest 5G median download speed
While Vodafone’s 5G coverage was not nearly as widespread as that of EE or Three in Sandwell, Vodafone registered the fastest 5G median download speed among all operators at an extremely fast 184.4 Mbps. Vodafone did, however, face strong competition from both EE and Three, with EE delivering an impressive 5G median download speed of 131.5 Mbps and Three clocking an even faster speed of 146.4 Mbps.

The chart below shows the median download speeds of each of the operators tested:

EE leads the way when looking at speeds across all network technologies
With 5G roll out still in its early stages in the UK, mobile users in Sandwell (and elsewhere) will likely switch from 5G to 4G LTE (or vice versa) for a significant portion of the time while using their mobiles. While we do measure and report results recorded entirely on 5G, we also show speeds recorded across all technologies, including 5G, 4G LTE, and mixed technologies, which reflects the end-user experience of switching to and from 5G and 4G LTE in the same data activity.

The chart below shows the median download speeds we recorded on 5G (where available), 4G LTE, as well as any sub-4G LTE technologies. EE registered the fastest median download speed in Sandwell at a strong 88.2 Mbps. Given EE’s relatively widespread 5G coverage, the operator’s speed was positively influenced considerably by its existing 5G network.

Vodafone’s median download speed, while much slower than that of EE, was still relatively high at 32.9 Mbps, with the majority of the operator’s results recorded on 4G LTE. Meanwhile, O2 and Three trailed, registering relatively pedestrian median download speeds of 9.0 Mbps and 13.6 Mbps, respectively. It is worth noting that Three’s speed of 13.6 Mbps was something of an exception considering that the operator was on 5G for over 12% of our tests, while Vodafone was on 5G just 2% of the time, you would expect the median download speed to be higher. The difference between the speeds of Three and Vodafone speaks to the strength of Vodafone’s robust 4G LTE network, which has earned a well-deserved industry and consumer reputation for providing fast download speeds.

EE delivers unmatched consistency of fast network speeds
The consistency of a network’s speed results has the greatest impact on the end user experience, and EE’s consistency of delivering fast speeds (50 Mbps or faster) was second to none. On the heat map below, speeds above 50 Mbps are marked in yellow, speeds in light green are between 75-100 Mbps, while those in dark green range from 100-400 Mbps. Accordingly, EE’s map is marked with a heavy yellow/green tint.

While Vodafone recorded the fastest 5G median download speed of any operator, comparatively, Vodafone was not quite as strong as EE when it comes to speed consistency. O2 and Three, meanwhile, generally provided median download speeds at the lower end of the scale.

Our partnership with Rootmetrics has helped create a far more robust, accurate view of network performance across Sandwell and the West Midlands region. This data can be used by a wide range of organisations and partnerships to help bring the benefits of 5G and connectivity to more people in more places. As more and more use cases are evaluated in testbeds across the UK, our combination of science-plus-crowd data can continue to provide critical coverage and performance insights that can allow organisations to make more informed, verifiable decisions on how those use cases evolve and are ultimately deployed.
Data from this study can also identify 5G “yes and not spots,” showing where 5G coverage is problematic, non-existent, or thriving. Understanding precisely where connectivity is lacking can help operators add coverage to specific areas and save time, money, and resources whilst ultimately improving service for the end user.