The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today released its first new study into the national performance of Mobile Broadband services since May 2011. The results show that the average mobile download speed has risen to 15.1Mbps on 4G and 6.1Mbps on 3G (up from a general 1.5 – 2.1Mbps in 2011). The fastest operators were EE and O2.
The new study, which is based off 210,000 tests conducted by Ofcom’s own “engineers” using both 4G and 3G mobile broadband networks (indoors and outdoors) across five UK cities between March and June 2014 (Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester), is the first report of two. The second phase of this research is expected to be published in spring 2015.
In order to save time Ofcom have summarised the core results into four simple graphs, which we’ve pasted below.
One rather significant oversight of this report is of course the focus on urban cities, which ignores sub-urban style towns and more isolated rural areas. Curiously Ofcom makes no mention of such areas in their press release, which makes today’s report of limited use. We can only hope that they return to cover this aspect later.
The regulator did however inform ISPreview.co.uk that they are doing other work to assess coverage and this was out of the scope for this report. Apparently Ofcom’s intention this time around was merely to test the difference in performance between 3G and 4G networks, and to do so they had to test in areas where 3G and 4G signals were available from all operators (most rural areas cannot current get 4G).
But we do get a breakdown of coverage by operator and platform, which notes that 4G (LTE) services are currently available from at least one operator in around 70% of UK premises. Naturally EE holds the lions share due to having almost a full year’s head start by deploying 4G over their existing 1800MHz band (rivals had to wait until 800MHz and 2.6GHz was auctioned).
On top of that Ofcom states that all four operators currently meet their 90% coverage obligation for slower 3G services, although the regulators methodology (used in the chart below) is apparently more demanding than required for the official obligation and thus shows Vodafone as coming up a bit short on 87%.
It’s worth pointing out that the government has also directed Ofcom to ensure that future mobile broadband coverage is extended to reach “at least” 98% of the population by 2017, although most mobile operators expect to match O2’s 98% indoor coverage obligation for 4G mobile services by 2015.
Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom, said:
“Having fast, reliable broadband on the move is vital for many consumers and businesses across the UK. Today’s research shows 4G is providing a significantly enhanced mobile broadband experience to customers, which we expect to be available to 98% of the UK population by 2017 at the latest.
Improving mobile quality of service is an important area of Ofcom’s work. Our research both incentivises mobile providers to offer a higher quality of service, while helping consumers choose a mobile package that best suits their needs.”
Ofcom said that they will publish full coverage data for all four of the national mobile network operators later this year, as part of their next Infrastructure Report.
UPDATE 14th November 2014:
It’s fair to say that Vodafone is often quite vocal when the performance of their network gets trampled on by research, such as in the many reports conducted by RootMetrics. So it’s no surprise to find that they’re doing the same again with Ofcom’s study.
Petek Ergul, Vodafone UK’s Head of Mobile Networks, said:
“We have been supportive of Ofcom’s intention to provide consumers with independent, informative data on mobile network performance. However, some of these tests were undertaken over six months ago, in a small number of cities and only taken in places where the majority of operators had coverage.
Based on analysis of Ookla’s NetMetrics data between 1 June and 30 September 2014, taken from over 2.5 million tests, our download speeds are between 15-53% faster than our three main competitors on all Android and iOS devices connected via 2G, 3G or 4G.
What our customers care about is that their chosen service works, is delivered in a timely manner, the delivery quality is consistent and reliable and that annoyances such as buffering do not occur. We are investing £1 billion in our UK network and services this year alone and are already beginning to see a clear improvement in the service experienced by customers across the country, including more consistent download speeds, more reliable voice calling and far fewer dropped calls. We expect our customers’ experience and our network coverage to continue to get significantly better as the momentum of Vodafone Group’s Project Spring investment accelerates further.”
In fairness, Ofcom is an organisation with a lot of complex demands and they plan to do more reports in the future in order to monitor the progress of both 3G and 4G based mobile network coverage and performance. The fact that the data is 6 months old isn’t a big issue since the next report will hopefully reflect the progress that Vodafone is referencing and that’s precisely what Ofcom are attempting to monitor.