We have had news this week of a 4G trial beginning in Cornwall later this year, but what of the current state of mobile broadband? Well Ofcom has just published research into the matter with some interesting results.
The research, conducted between September and December 2010, in partnership with broadband monitoring specialists Epitiro, found that the average download speed achieved by consumers in Ofcom’s consumer panel survey was 1.5Mbps and basic webpages took on average 8.5 seconds to download – not exactly blistering speed then. The research involved over 4.2 million tests and measured average speeds as well as the performance of the five mobile operators in areas of good 3G network coverage. While comparing these speeds to fixed-line broadband speeds isn’t exactly comparing like-for-like, it is of value for customers looking to decide between using one or the other. A study at the end of last years found the average fixed-line broadband speed was 6.2Mbps, and the average web page download time was 0.5 seconds – due to higher levels of latency. Looking at the individual providers, O2, on average, delivered web pages faster than the other four operators and had lower average latency than 3, Orange and Vodafone.
Of course a person’s location makes a big difference to the quality of mobile broadband attained and the study found, unsurprisingly, that urban areas outperformed rural areas – primarily due to greater 3G availability. However, performance was highly variable across urban areas, with no guarantee of good performance offered in a city centre location. The report said: “The most important factor affecting mobile broadband performance is coverage, and consumers should check with their provider how good the coverage is likely to be before buying a service.” In the summary of the report Ofcom indicated that the much anticipated rollout of a 4G network would not begin until 2013 – with the auction for the 4G spectrum taking place next year.
The research showed that that 17 percent of UK households are using mobile broadband to access online services, with 7 percent using it as their only means of internet access, compared to just 3 percent in 2009. While the average speed was 1.5Mbps, in good 3G coverage areas, Ofcom found that average mobile broadband speeds went up to 2.1Mbps, falling to an average of 1.7Mbps during the peak evening period of 8-10pm. Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “This research gives consumers a clearer picture of the performance of mobile broadband dongle and datacards as consumers use these services to complement fixed-line services or sometimes as their principal means of accessing online services.” The report didn't cover smartphones but Ofcom indicated that a survey of these devices would take place soon.
This report will be helpful for people looking to decide between fixed-line and mobile broadband as the main way they connect to the internet, but what it also shows is how far we are from the mythical 100Mbps download speeds 4G LTE technology promises and only then will mobile broadband become a viable alternative to fixed-line for most people.