Brits are finally signing up for 4G broadband—but that’s slowing down the speed

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At the beginning of last year, barely 318,000 of Britain’s 83 million mobile phone subscribers used a 4G LTE network, the fastest that exists today for mobile broadband internet. By the start of this year, that number had grown to over 6 million. Unfortunately, as more people come onto the new network, the average speed they’re receiving has declined—mostly due to congestion.

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Moreover, the average amount of time that subscribers are connected to a 4G network has also dropped across networks. In the case of O2, a network run by Telefonica, for example, time connected to 4G is down from 50% earlier this year to 37% in the period between July and October, according to a new report by OpenSignal, a signal measurement firm.

This lower average is probably because more people are signing up in places where 4G coverage is spotty, rather than degradation of services, says OpenSignals’ Samuel Johnston. Still, perhaps networks shouldn’t be selling expensive 4G plans to people who live in places where coverage hasn’t been reliably rolled out yet.

This isn’t to suggest that British mobile phone users should necessarily shy away from paying for 4G plans. Reliability has increased in London, says Johnston, and things should stabilize as the network rollout continues. Data speeds on 3G have remained fairly steady, despite a much larger number of users. But for subscribers outside London, it may be best to wait until operators have finished setting up 4G across the country. For now, according to OpenSignal, only EE (a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile) has decent signal outside the capital.