EE and Three the top-performing 4G networks, says Ofcom

Ofcom's research into 4G and 3G mobile network performance finds download speeds fastest with EE and fastest web page loads with Three

Mobile network operator (MNO) EE offers the fastest download speeds over 4G in the UK but, for faster web-browsing, consumers should head for Three, according to research from communications regulator Ofcom.

The regulator completed tests of 4G and 3G networks in five sample towns and cities – Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle, and Poole/Bournemouth. Ofcom said 4G networks perform much better than their 3G predecessors.

In the test areas, 4G networks attained an average download speed of 14.7Mbps, compared to 5.9Mbps on 3G; and 4G networks took an average 0.72 seconds to load a web page, compared to 1.4 seconds on 3G.

Overall, 97% of 120,000 test samples on smartphones across all four networks provided 4G download speeds of over 2Mbps, which Ofcom said is sufficient to stream video.

Average download speeds on 4G for EE users came in at 18.6Mbps; on Vodafone, 16.4Mbps; on O2, 13.9Mbps; and on Three, 8.5Mbps.

At the upper end of download speeds, 36% of EE samples reported speeds of over 20Mbps, compared to 31% on Vodafone, 22% on O2, and just 4.7% on Three.

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When it came to web browsing speeds, Three samples reported an average page loading time of 0.63 seconds, compared to 0.71 seconds on O2, 0.76 seconds on Vodafone, and 0.77 seconds on EE. Nearly a third of EE samples failed to load in 15 seconds.

Average upload speeds – useful for users of video or photo-sharing services such as Vine and Instagram – across all four networks came in at 13.6Mbps, eight times faster than 3G. EE was top of the pile at 17.6Mbs, and Three back to bottom with 9.4Mbps.

Latency – important for gaming, video calls and web browsing – was also tested. Ofcom found average latency across all four 4G networks was 53.1ms. EE had the lowest average at 48.4ms, with Three in second place at 50.9ms. O2 samples clocked 55.2ms on average, and Vodafone 59.5ms.

“People are increasingly connected, communicating and sharing content on their mobiles when out and about,” commented Ofcom consumer and content group director, Claudio Pollack.

“4G is delivering a significantly enhanced mobile experience and, as these services roll out across the UK, our research will support consumers when choosing the right mobile package for their needs.”

More customers = lower speed

Ofcom’s latest probe into 4G network capabilities came four months after it published similar research covering Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester, produced from samples taken between March and June 2014.

The regulator said it had chosen to vary the cities chosen for the second phase of research, to capture a wider snapshot of mobile broadband.

However, it did cover Edinburgh and London on both occasions and, while it found no significant difference in London between the two datasets, in Edinburgh it found a 12.5% decrease in average 4G download speed, although web pages tended to load faster there.

Ofcom attributed this to the fact that more people are taking 4G services in Edinburgh, which would have been likely to affect the average speed received.

The lack of change in London probably reflected major investment in advanced 4G capabilities – EE switched on its 4G LTE Advanced network in London in October 2014, in the middle of the current sample period.

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