O2 beats rivals in Ofcom mobile broadband study

The regulator's report, which focused on dongle and datacard-based 3G and HSPA connectivity, also showed that seven percent of UK households now use mobile broadband as their only internet connection

O2's dongle and datacard-based mobile broadband services are faster than those of its rivals, Ofcom has revealed in a new market report.

Ofcom sign

A report published by Ofcom has found that O2's dongle and datacard-based mobile broadband services are faster than those of its rivals. Photo credit: Jon Yeomans

The Measuring Mobile Broadband in the UK (PDF) report, released on Thursday, covers the first investigation into mobile broadband carried out by the UK telecoms regulator. It looked specifically at the performance and speeds of dongle and datacard-based mobile broadband services from a range of operators.

However, it ignored smartphone-based mobile broadband use, including the tethering of smartphones to laptops. Ofcom said such use may form part of future studies if and when they take place.

O2's average speeds were just below 3Mbps, and the operator was particularly ahead of its rivals between the hours of 8pm and 10pm. Next was Vodafone, followed in turn by 3, T-Mobile and Orange. Almost half of O2's average download speeds were higher than 3Mbps, while most average speeds measured for T-Mobile and Orange were below 2Mbps.

"Our customers are seeing the benefit from the huge investment we've made in our network," O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus said in a statement responding to Ofcom's study. "We always aim to deliver the best network experience for our customers and these results are another indicator that we're doing just that."

Network performance

However, Informa analyst Thomas Wehmeier warned against reading too much into Ofcom's comparisons.

Consumers need to be aware that network performance varies hugely depending on location, time of day and whether you use your device indoors or outdoors.

– Thomas Wehmeier, Informa

"Although O2 topped the overall results, consumers need to be aware that network performance varies hugely depending on location, time of day and in particular whether you use your device indoors or outdoors," he said in a statement.

"Our advice to somebody buying a new dongle or smartphone is to always check for network coverage and performance in all the main locations where you'd expect to use your new device, whether in the home, office or elsewhere," Wehmeier added.

According to Ofcom, 17 percent of UK households use mobile broadband, and seven percent use it as their only means of internet access. That compares with a figure of three percent two years ago, recorded during one of Ofcom's annual communications surveys.

"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," Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards said in a statement.

Average download speeds

Ofcom and the broadband monitoring specialist firm Epitiro, which carried out the study for the regulator, found the average 3G or HSPA download speed to be around 1.5Mbps through dongles and datacards. Basic web pages took an average of 8.5 seconds to download.

By contrast, with fixed broadband the average download speed was 6.2Mbps towards the end of 2010, and the average page download time was less than half a second. In mid-2009, an Epitiro study showed the average mobile broadband-based download speed to be less than 1Mbps.

Unsurprisingly, the report also showed 3G and HSPA performance in urban areas to be better than in rural areas. "However, performance was highly variable across urban areas, with no guarantee of good performance offered in a city-centre location," Ofcom said.

The report is based on 4.2 million tests using static test probes, drive testing and a consumer panel with a thousand participants. Only 3G and HSPA data was used to compile the results. These technologies are due to be superseded by '4G' LTE from around 2013.

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