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The Truth About Mobile Broadband - The Backlash

THE BACKLASH

"Consumers are falling out of love with mobile broadband, ditching their 'dongles' and returning to fixed-line services," said The Guardian just one month ago.

"We get a sense that the mobile broadband thing has peaked. We are seeing some of those people begin to realise that the bandwidth you get on mobile is so much less than you get on a fixed line," admitted Carphone Warehouse CEO Charles Dunstone. "Mobile broadband is increasingly a supplementary rather than a substitutional thing, and an increasing proportion of Carphone sales are of pre-pay dongles."

Neither of these statements is an exaggeration. An October survey from specialist site ThinkBroadband.com showed that a whopping 76 per cent of 770 respondents said they were unhappy with their UK mobile broadband speeds. A further nine per cent were unsure with just 14 per cent feeling satisfied. On top of this 60 per cent described their experience of UK mobile broadband coverage as 'poor' with 30 per cent saying it was 'adequate' and just three per cent convinced it was 'excellent'. These results do not come through ignorance either with 75 per cent of respondents aware of what their monthly mobile broadband data allowances were.

We were not always this unhappy. Just back in February the results for the JD Power and Associates 2008 UK Mobile Broadband ISP Customer Satisfaction Study revealed O2 to be users' most favoured network with an overall score of 712 on a 1,000 point scale - essentially 7.1 out of 10. T-Mobile and Vodafone ranked second and third with scores of 683 and 655 respectively, a still healthy 6.9 and 6.6 out of 10. This shows a drastic fall has occurred over the last 12 months, a confusing situation when technological evolution is only ever meant to get better and faster.

It isn't just consumers sticking the boot in either. In July industry regulator Ofcom issued a damning report on UK 3G data coverage. In a complete about turn O2 came out particularly badly with the purple patches of recognised 3G signal sporadic at best and virtually nonexistent outside of major city centres. Of the rest Orange was ahead overall, but even then the vast gaps in its service were nothing of which to be proud. So how do networks regularly claim 90 per cent and greater 3G coverage? Because these figures refer to population coverage not area - not a great measure given the key word in 'mobile broadband' is mobile.

Of course it must be remembered that 3G is a tricky beast. It uses a data wavelength that is notoriously bad at penetrating walls and water. In fact, so bad is it at the latter that even trees can disrupt signal because of the high water content in their leaves! That said, this isn't our problem we are the paying customer, it is for the networks to figure out and clearly they aren't doing a good enough job.

If this wasn't bad enough in late September comparison site broadband-expert.co.uk announced the results of an extensive and prolonged test into real world mobile broadband speeds and the figures were nothing short of appalling. Between 1 March and 31 August 3,342 mobile broadband connections were tested around the UK and revealed consumers receive just one quarter of networks' advertised speeds on average.

This time Vodafone came out on top, but it was a dubious win with its 7.2Mbit HSDPA service averaging just 1.3Mbit/sec - that's a mere 18.1 per cent of its promoted speed. 3 was second at 1.2Mbit/sec - 33 per cent of its advertised 3.6Mbit speed - but everyone was largely lumped together with T-Mobile, the slowest of the five major networks, bringing up the rear at 0.9Mbit/sec. With the web a vastly more complex and data intensive animal than it was back in 2004 at the time of the first Vodafone Mobile Connect Card it becomes easy to see why our perception of mobile broadband performance hasn't really moved on.

Customers, comparison sites and even the industry regulator are angry and so they should be.

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