In the UK, 17% of households are using mobile broadband to access online services, with 7% using it as their only means of Internet access, compared to 3% in 2009, according to a new research by telecom watchdog Ofcom.
The research, conducted between September and December 2010 in partnership with broadband monitoring specialists Epitiro, found that the average download speed achieved by consumers in Ofcom’s consumer panel survey was 1.5Mbps and basic Webpages took on average 8.5 seconds to download.
This compares with the average fixed broadband speed of 6.2Mbps (Nov-Dec 2010), and average Web page download times on fixed broadband networks of less than 0.5 seconds.
However, in good 3G coverage areas, the research revealed that average mobile broadband speeds were 2.1Mbps, falling to an average of 1.7Mbps during the peak evening period of 8-10pm while basic Web pages took on average 2.2 seconds to download.
The research highlighted some differences between the performance of operators’ 3G networks. O2, Vodafone and 3 offered faster average download speeds than T-Mobile and Orange.
O2, on average, delivered Web pages faster than the other four operators and had lower average latency than 3, Orange and Vodafone.
The slower speed of Web page downloading on mobile broadband compared to fixed broadband is the result of higher levels of latency. In addition to increasing the time for Web page downloads, high latency may make connections less suitable for some online games and VoIP, the research revealed.
The research revealed that urban areas outperformed rural areas, primarily due to greater 3G availability. However, performance was highly variable across urban areas, with no guarantee of good performance offered in a city centre location.
Ofcom said that the important factor affecting mobile broadband performance is coverage, and consumers should check with their provider how good the coverage is likely to be before buying a service.
Further, the regulatory body noted that mobile broadband performance is likely to remain significantly below fixed broadband performance until the rollout 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 chief executive Ed Richards said the research gives consumers a clearer picture of the performance of mobile broadband dongle and datacards as consumers use these services to complement fixed-line services or sometimes as their principal means of accessing online services.