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Vodafone UK Says You Don’t Need More Than 20Mbps on a Mobile

Tuesday, Jan 13th, 2015 (2:05 pm) - Score 1,297

The CEO of mobile operator Vodafone UK, Jeroen Hoencamp, has moved to defend the performance of their 4G (LTE) Mobile Broadband network by saying that Internet “speed only gets you so far” and “the reality is that you don’t currently need anything beyond 20Mbps [Megabits per second] on a mobile device“.

At this point some fixed line broadband advocates may be quick to poke holes in Hoencamp’s comment, although it’s important to recognise that mobile represents a different type of connectivity and ecosystem from fixed lines. People generally don’t use their mobiles to download the latest 50GB Xbox One / PS4 game and the vast majority of Smartphones aren’t yet capable of showing 4K video content properly.

Furthermore mobile data is more expensive, hence all those data caps that operators love to use (especially on Tethering), while signals / reception and embedded modem quality is much more variable resulting in significant performance fluctuations. Faster speeds can also drain battery life on mobile kit and not forgetting that the content presented on a small screen doesn’t need to be as rich as the expectations of a 50″ 4K TV. On top of all that the underlying radio spectrum is a finite resource, thus capacity remains a big issue.

So in fairness Hoencamp is probably right when he says that you don’t “currently need” beyond 20Mbps, although if it were us we would have added the words “most people” since there are always those who might use more than 20Mbps on a mobile. Instead his remarks appear to be aimed more at those who sometimes criticise Vodafone’s Mobile Broadband performance, especially when compared with EE’s seemingly better developed 4G deployment.

Jeroen Hoencamp, Vodafone UK’s CEO, said:

For us it’s about having the strongest [4G] network. One of the things that makes us different from others is that we have our ‘low band spectrum’. What that means is that our 4G is on a lower frequency, which travels further and deeper indoors. Forget all the technicalities, though: all it means is that we can offer great indoor coverage, and that’s important because the bulk of mobile activity actually takes place indoors – whether people are at work and at home.

Wherever we build 4G, we’ve proved that we can deliver great unbeatable 4G speeds and coverage, but it’s not a race to have the highest speeds because when it comes to mobile, speed only gets you so far.

We could build a network just to achieve massive speeds, but the reality is that you don’t currently need anything beyond 20Mbps on a mobile device. Even for streaming video you only need a couple of megabits per second, so we think less about absolute speed and more about using that bandwidth to enable more customers to enjoy great content on the move, even in the busiest places and at the busiest times.

Many customers don’t know what 4G is. Many customers don’t care what 4G is. All customers want is consistency, so that wherever they go they have strong signal.”

The comments are clearly designed to highlight Vodafone’s strengths, which in part stem from their strong holdings in the lower frequency 900MHz band and a bit of 800MHz (similar levels to O2). By comparison EE’s strength tends to be in its large holdings of 1800MHz and higher frequencies, although they do have a little 800MHz too.

Crucially Vodafone also holds some 2100MHz, 2.6GHz and a tiny amount of 1800MHz, so Hoencamp is probably right when he claims that they have the flexibility to build a network with “massive speeds“. Low frequency spectrum travels further and penetrates more effectively through walls (i.e. cost effective wide area coverage), while higher frequency spectrum doesn’t travel as far but can carry more data.

Admittedly some of EE’s lead in certain 4G performance reports (e.g. RootMetrics) simply stems from the fact that their deployment was gifted nearly a full year’s head start in the 1800MHz band, which equates to roughly double the coverage of Voda’s rival 4G platform. The extra capacity supplied for 4G can sometimes also benefit existing 3G networks, which affords EE an additional advantage. But crucially this gap will close over the next couple of years and that’s when we’ll really be able to judge like-for-like.

In the meantime most mobile users might not “currently” need 20Mbps but, just like home broadband connections show, expectations and demands are always evolving to desire ever faster speeds and higher quality content. Some Smartphones are already touting so-called 2K displays and the first 4K displays are just around to corner, although related video streams can usually run with 20Mbps and, unlike Home Broadband, you don’t need to share that with other family members (at least not directly).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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