The average mobile-broadband download speed in the UK is 0.9Mbps, a quarter of the rate promised by most providers, according to a report published on Wednesday.
The research group Epitro monitored connections among a pool of UK volunteers for its survey and found that the average was not reaching advertised download speeds, typically 3.6Mbps from most UK mobile-broadband suppliers.
"This exhaustive study confirms the general consensus that mobile-broadband services are functional and, while currently slower in practice than their fixed-line competition, continually improving," Epitiro chief executive Gavin Johns said in a statement. "That we recorded a few measurements at relatively higher speeds is confirmation that mobile-broadband technology is capable of much more."
The take-up of mobile broadband, mostly through the use of dongles, has skyrocketed in the past 18 months as data prices have fallen. The technology is seen as crucial to the rollout of broadband in areas of the UK where fixed-line broadband is unlikely to get the investment it needs from operators.
The upcoming Digital Britain report is expected to recommend that the whole of the UK be served with minimum broadband speeds of 2Mbps. If mobile-broadband providers are supplying less than 2Mbps on average, as the Epitiro research suggests, then mobile broadband will have a way to go to fill the black holes in connectivity.
The telecoms regulator Ofcom is keen to free up more spectrum to increase the viability of mobile broadband in such situations.
For its report, Mobile Broadband Performance Analysis — Initial Findings 2009, Epitro pulled together over 1.4 million test results. The tests took place between December 2008 and May 2009, and were conducted with the more than 1,300 UK mobile-broadband users who downloaded Epitiro's broadband-monitoring software.
Epitro monitored activities such as downloading, VoIP calling, web surfing, streaming video use and online gaming to come up with its analysis. The report covered mobile broadband providers including O2, 3, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Media and Vodafone.
According to the research firm, UK mobile-broadband users receive, on average, 24 percent of advertised download speeds. The average mobile-broadband ping time is 50 percent higher than the recommended limit (100 milliseconds) for "acceptable web-based game playing" and ping times are three times slower than those on "equivalent fixed line broadband services", Epitro said.
Web browsing is around a third slower than it is on equivalent ADSL connections, but the researchers found an increase of 11 percent in TCP download speeds over the time of the study.
The stress put on a cell — the area served by a base station — by many users appeared to be an issue, as average mobile-broadband speeds doubled to 1.8Mbps at 3am on weekdays.
"Given the growing interest in mobile broadband and its potential to address 'not spots' [connectivity black spots] there will be increasing demand on operators to provide solutions that meet consumer expectations and further improve performance," Johns said. "Epitiro will continue to monitor mobile-broadband performance and track service levels during this exciting period of development."