On average, UK users achieve a mobile internet download speed of 1.5Mbps, compared with 6.2Mbps average fixed broadband download speeds.
Ofcom consumer research shows that 17% of UK households are using mobile broadband to access online services, with 7% using it as their only means of internet access, compared with 3% in 2009.
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For those people using mobile broadband as their only internet access, 1.5Mbps bandwidth is still significantly lower that the minimum 2Mbps fixed broadband speed in the Digital Britain report.
In fact, the Ofcom research finds that on average, mobile broadband services perform worse than all the fixed-line broadband services measured in the same period. Average mobile broadband download speeds are around a third of the average speeds offered by "up to" 20/24Mbps DSL broadband services.
Mobile broadband averages 2.1Mbps download speed
The research involved more than 4.2 million tests, measuring average speeds as well as the performance of the five mobile operators in areas of good 3G network coverage.
Tests from broadband monitoring specialist Epitiro presented in the report show that basic web pages took on average 8.5 seconds to download. Again, this is much slower that users expect on fixed broadband. Best practice dictates that pages should load as fast as possible. Slow load times lead to user frustration and people will leave a site if it does not download quickly.
In good 3G coverage areas, Ofcom found that average mobile broadband speeds were 2.1Mbps, falling to an average of 1.7Mbps during the peak evening period of 8-10pm. Basic web pages took on average 2.2 seconds to download.
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Even with a connection speed of 2.1Mbps, static probe testing showed that a 5MB music track would download over mobile in about 20 seconds and a 250MB video file (for example a standard definition 30min TV programme) would download in about 17 minutes.
The study highlights that the availability of cell coverage in rural areas is an issue, as is achieving connectivity within buildings, in motion (trains, cars) and in underground areas such as car parks or basement flats.
O2, on average, delivered web pages faster than the other four operators and had lower average latency than 3, Orange and Vodafone.
User satisfaction drops
The Ofcom study includes research from YouGov's quarterly Dongle Tracker study, which shows that satisfaction with mobile broadband has fluctuated over time since 2008.
In June 2008 when the research was first carried out, the average satisfaction level was 6.83 for overall quality (measured on a 10-point scale). Over time, with mobile broadband penetration increasing, the service has experienced challenges concerning reliability and connectivity (possibly also related to changing user expectations). Consequently satisfaction with services declined. In October 2009, the industry average for overall quality fell to its lowest at 6.06.
According to Ofcom, mobile broadband performance is likely to remain significantly below fixed broadband performance until the roll-out of additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK, which is expected to begin in 2013. The new spectrum will provide much-needed capacity for the fourth generation (4G) of mobile technology, set to deliver significantly faster mobile broadband services, Ofcom states.
|Ofcom report recommendations|
The report recommends mobile operators provide a robust and reliable comparative information on: