O2 found to have fastest and most responsive coverage, but low speeds for mobile network indicate benefits of fixed connection.
Around 7% of UK households, or 1.5m of the total 21.3m, use mobile devices exclusively to connect to the internet, and a total of 3.6m, or 17%, used mobile broadband for internet access, according to new research by communications regulator Ofcom.
The study, carried out between September and December 2010 with broadband monitoring specialists Epitiro, found that the number of homes using mobile devices for exclusive access had doubled from 3% in 2009.
The average mobile broadband speed was 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), which meant that basic web pages took an average of 8.5 seconds to download. The Digital Britain report, which has been taken up by the coalition government, aims for a minimum 2Mbps connection for every home via mobile or fixed broadband.
By contrast fixed broadband over telephone lines offers an average 6.2Mbps in a study done in November and December 2010; with that, the same pages loaded in less than 0.5s.
The research involved over 4.2m tests and measured average speeds as well as the performance of the five mobile operators in areas of good 3G network coverage. However, it did not include smartphones, looking only at 3G dongles and datacards.
Other findings from the Ofcom report include:
• Average speeds rose in areas with good 3G coverage, to 2.1Mbps
• during the “congested” peak evening period of 8pm-10pm, average speeds fell to 1.7Mbps
Different mobile broadband providers performed differently.
• O2, Vodafone and 3 offered faster average download speeds than T-Mobile and Orange, the networks operated by Everything Everywhere
• O2 on average had faster connections than other operators, and more responsive connections when users made web requests
Different locations had different responses, with urban locations offering faster connections than rural ones. But performance was extremely variable.
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 research is another important step in Ofcom’s efforts to ensure that consumers have the information they need to exercise their choice effectively and to make the most of competition in the market.”
Adam Scorer, director of external affairs at Consumer Focus, said: “Ofcom’s research shows that the small number of consumers relying on mobile broadband to get access to the internet is increasing.
“Coverage for mobile and fixed broadband is still patchy, leaving a lottery for consumers who want to get online, especially in rural and remote areas. The internet is increasingly important for consumers to access public services and get the best online deals. It is essential for consumers that the Government and telecoms industry work together to make sure reliable broadband is available to everyone regardless of location. In the meantime, we would urge consumers to check coverage in their area before signing up to any deal.”
Derek McManus, chief operating officer for the mobile carrier and fixed broadband provider O2, said: “Our customers are seeing the benefit from the huge investment we’ve made in our network. We always aim to deliver the best network experience for our customers and these results are another indicator that we’re doing just that.”
• Ofcom has published a guide for consumers with advice on what to think about when choosing a mobile broadband service.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010