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Ofcom Find EE is the Fastest for Mobile Broadband in Major UK Cities

Thursday, March 31st, 2016 (2:42 pm) - Score 753
wireless mobile broadband mast vodafone uk

A new study has examined the 3G and 4G based Mobile Broadband performance of mobile operators O2, EE, Three UK and Vodafone across five major cities including Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Norwich. Overall EE delivered the fastest Internet download and upload speeds in all cities, except Norwich.

The data was collected between November and December 2015 by using both a separate 4G and 3G tariff with each Mobile Network Operator (MNO) and the technical annex explains this in more detail (they used a Samsung Galaxy S5). It should also be remembered that this is only a “snapshot” of performance in several major cities, which won’t reflect the picture in rural or other disadvantage areas.

Otherwise the 4G networks delivered an average download speed of 17Mbps (just 6Mbps on 3G), with EE offering the fastest download performance (20Mbps) and this was followed by Three (15Mbps), Vodafone (12Mbps) and O2 (10Mbps). Clearly 4G services are significantly faster than 3G, but that much is obvious and the results merely confirm that 3G has gone about as far as it will go in terms of average performance (all operators achieved a similar speed on 3G).

By comparison 4G is still evolving and improving, with EE delivering the best results because they had a one year head-start on its deployment. This was largely due to mobile operators and Ofcom somewhat fudging up the related auction and spectrum release process with bickering, legal threats and related delays.

ofcom_3g_vs_4g_city_mobile_broadband_download_speed_2016

EE was also found to have the “most consistent 4G download speed performance“, which means that speeds in excess of 2Mbps were delivered in 92% of its tests and that compares with 87% for Three, 82% for Vodafone and 69% for O2. Now let’s take a closer look at how they all did by each city.

ofcom_4g_city_mobile_broadband_download_speed_2016

ofcom_4g_city_mobile_broadband_download_speed_time_of_day_2016

It’s interesting to note that Three UK suddenly powers ahead in Norwich, which is particularly surprising as their popular “all-you-can-eat” data tariffs often make the network attractive for heavy Smartphone based data usage and this can impact network capacity due to mild congestion (i.e. reduce speeds).

But otherwise EE maintain a decisive lead and they also demonstrated greater stability during different times of day, which suggests that their network may have a good amount of spare capacity floating around. Interestingly the biggest performance drops were shown in the evening periods, which is when we’d normally expect Home Broadband (WiFi) to take the strain off consumer mobile traffic.

Finally the report also takes a brief look at Upload Speeds and server response times (Latency), which reflects the delay between a consumer making a request to their mobile network for information and the network providing this information to the device.

ofcom_4g_city_mobile_broadband_upload_speed_2016

ofcom_4g_city_mobile_broadband_latency_2016

Overall EE delivered the fasted mobile upload speeds, including in Norwich where they’d previously lost out on download performance to rival operator Three UK. However it’s notable that fans of multiplayer gaming may actually get more benefit from using Three UK as the server response times were much lower and more stable, which is exactly what you want for response times.

Ofcom’s study certainly provides some useful insight, although like in previous years its scope is far too limited to be truly useful and of course consumers should always consider the other factors when choosing an operator, such as price, quality of customer service, coverage, contract terms and handset choice etc.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    Well done to EE and Three, very poor performances from O2 and Vodafone.

    Surprisingly poor in the case of Vodafone given it has its own backhaul network in the form of the old C&W network. Perhaps it’s been underinvesting in the UK for too long, needs to raise its game and put more money into both network and customer service if it is going to stand a chance of closing the gap and competing.

  2. Avatar dragoneast

    And of course assuming that money is no object to pay for the additional data or high data caps to make use of these speeds. What I don’t understand is why since money is never any object for UK consumers why doesn’t every provider just raise their prices by many multiples to pay for the improvements that everybody wants? Ten times the price and everybody could have what they want (including the landowners for the masts and backhaul wayleaves,and the providers’ profits) . . . problem solved, surely?

  3. Avatar DanielM

    where i live i find vodafone’s 3G to be very fast and very reliable (the 4G here is slower) average i get around 21Mbps with peak of 32Mbps, upload is always a solid 4,2Mbps

  4. Avatar Bob

    Well who’d thunk that… It’s not like they don’t have double the spectrum or anyone else.

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