Fat pipes better than dongles, says Ofcom

Ofcom publishes first survey of mobile broadband performance...

Ofcom publishes first survey of mobile broadband performance...

Vodafone 3G dongle: Ofcom surveys mobile broadband performance

Fixed-line broadband beats mobile broadband dongles, Ofcom confirmsPhoto: Kai Hendry

The UK's fixed-line fat pipes typically perform better than mobile broadband dongles, research from Ofcom has confirmed.

The telecoms watchdog has published its first report into the performance of mobile broadband - specifically looking at dongles and datacards, rather than smartphones.

Close to a fifth, 17 per cent, of UK households are using mobile broadband to access online services, according to the research, with seven per cent using it as their only means of internet access - compared with three per cent in 2009.

The average download speed achieved by dongle and datacard users taking part in research was 1.5Mbps, with basic web pages taking on average 8.5 seconds to download. This performance compares with the average fixed broadband speed of 6.2Mbps, and average web page download times of less than 0.5 seconds.

Dongle performance did improve in areas with good 3G coverage. Here the average mobile broadband speed was 2.1Mbps, falling to an average of 1.7Mbps during the peak evening period of 8pm to 10pm. Basic web pages took on average 2.2 seconds to download, Ofcom found.

The regulator said mobile broadband performance is likely to remain significantly below fixed broadband lines until additional spectrum becomes available - due to begin in 2013, after the much delayed 4G spectrum auctions. Earlier this month, Ofcom reported research into the next generation of mobile network technology - known as long-term evolution (LTE) - suggests it will bring over three times more mobile broadband capacity to the UK.

The biggest factor affecting the performance of existing mobile broadband services is network coverage, according to Ofcom. Urban areas generally outperformed rural areas owing to greater 3G availability. However, performance was highly variable across urban areas, with no guarantee of good performance in a city centre location, the research found.

Network performance also varied by operator, with 3, O2 and Vodafone offering faster average download speeds for dongle users than Orange and T-Mobile. Web pages were delivered faster on average to O2 users and had lower average latency than for the other four operators, according to Ofcom.

The slower speed of web page downloading on mobile broadband compared with fixed broadband is largely the result of higher levels of latency, Ofcom said. Connections with high latency are also less suitable for services such as VoIP and some online games.

The research, which involved more than 4.2 million tests, was conducted between September and December 2010, in partnership with broadband monitoring company Epitiro. Fixed-line broadband speeds were tracked in November and December 2010.