Mobile-only broadband access doubles in UK
Nearly one in five UK homes uses mobile broadband to access the internet, the communications regulator Ofcom reports, but national availability of the service fails to meet consumer demand.
The results are based on finding from 4.2 million tests of mobile dongles and data cards by 1,000 users in 97 locations chosen for their 3G availability.
The results suggest that national mobile broadband performance falls short of meeting user demand for high speed mobile data access, especially in rural areas, where mobile access is likely to be the fastest, cheapest way of providing high speed internet access in future.
Ofcom’s first report on mobile broadband access, released on 25 May, found 17% of homes were using the mobile networks to access the internet. The number using mobile access exclusively more than doubled from 3% to 7% between 2009 and December 2010, when the tests were completed.
The average download speed was 1.5Mbps, but this varied widely in towns. There was no guarantee of good performance in a city centre, Ofcom warned.
The average speeds achieved in rural areas was lower and 3G/HSPA coverage was more patchy, Ofcom said.
Where there was good 3G coverage average mobile broadband speeds were 2.1Mbps. This fell to 1.7Mbps during the 8-10pm peak.
Ofcom reported earlier that the average fixed broadband speed in 2010 was 6.2Mbps.
O2 provided the fastest speeds, folowed by Vodafone and 3, and had less latency, the main cause of poor performance. T-Mobile and Orange performed less well. The latter two are merging their networks following a decision by their parent companies, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom-Orange respectively, to create Everything Everywhere to house their UK assets.
Ofcom said 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 said.
Cisco reported in February that global mobile data traffic almost trebled for a third year in a row. But local market researcher Analysys Mason said in November 201 that the mobile data market was “over-hyped”.
“There is a lot of exaggerated talk about mobile operators facing massively increasing pressure on their networks, and having to use every resource possible to make costs, revenue and traffic growth align. The problem with the view that there is a huge impending wave of mobile data is that it does not correlate to measured traffic on mobile networks,” principal analyst Rupert Wood, said at the time.
Ofcom’s present proposals for 4G licence holders to replicate 3G coverage areas suggests that the release of new spectrum will do little to increase the availability of high speed broadband in rural areas in the short term.
Ofcom has suggested that one licence, for 800MHz spectrum, be set aside for an operator that is prepared to commit to covering 95% of the country by 2017.
A parliamentary debate led by Cumbria and the Border MP Rory Stewart last week passed a motion calling for the 95% target to be pushed up to 98%. The estimated cost of the extra transmission masts was £210m. This was a small price to pay in potential lost revenue from Ofcom’s spectrum auction, he said.