Ofcom to test mobile broadband speeds

The regulator will measure mobile data throughput speeds for 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone, following research that found disparities between average advertised performance and actual speed
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Communications regulator Ofcom is to field-test the mobile broadband performance of five major operators.

The regulator has asked broadband test company Epitiro to measure data throughput speeds for 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

Ofcom told ZDNet UK on Friday that it had commissioned Epitiro to carry out the research due to growing customer dissatisfaction with actual — as opposed to advertised — mobile broadband speeds.

"Actual speeds delivered via mobile networks are typically well below the 'up to' speeds which are advertised," said the regulator in a statement. "Satisfaction levels with mobile broadband performance also seem significantly below satisfaction with other [broadband] services."

In research carried out between December 2008 and May 2009, Epitiro found that the average download speed for UK mobile broadband users was just under 1Mbps. This was over three-quarters less than average advertised download speeds.

In addition, web browsing was on average 34 percent slower than on equivalent ADSL services, while ping times were three times slower than equivalent fixed-line broadband services.

In its new test, Epitiro will measure details such as the availability and retention of networks and download times, Iain Wood, Epitiro director of marketing, told ZDNet UK on Friday.

"We do testing from a consumer viewpoint," said Wood. "Rather than look within a network, we go to the final delivery point."

Epitiro is in the process of deploying over 1,000 devices around the UK and Northern Ireland, which will log on to networks to test broadband data delivery and coverage. The company has completed preliminary testing, which started at the end of June. The actual test will start in September, and run through to January 2011, said Wood.

Both the regulator and businesses would like to have a closer estimation of speeds that users are likely to receive for mobile broadband, said Wood.

Internet service providers (ISPs) have recently come in for scrutiny from Ofcom. In July, the regulator revised its code of practice after research found a growing gap between advertised fixed-line broadband speeds and their real-world equivalents.

This research, coupled with evidence of growing consumer dissatisfaction about the disparity between actual and advertised mobile broadband speeds, led Ofcom to commission the latest research from Epitiro.

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