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EE fastest 4G mobile network – but slowest for web browsing

Thursday, April 2nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

EE’s 4G network is outperforming its rivals in several aspects of mobile broadband, according to new research from Ofcom.

But while it had the fastest download and upload speeds, EE had the slowest web browsing speed of all four major mobile operators, taking the longest for a web page to load on 4G.

The findings were published today as part of Ofcom research into 3G and 4G mobile broadband performance, which showed that the most recent generation of mobile technology outperforms 3G networks in five sample locations.

Ofcom carried out tests on about 120,000 smartphones in Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle and Poole/Bournemouth, where both 4G and 3G networks have been rolled out.

The research, which looked at download and upload speeds, web browsing speeds, and latency – the delay in transferring data to and from someone’s device – highlighted variations in performance between network operators EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

EE, which became the first operator to commercially launch a 4G network in autumn 2012, provided the fastest average 4G download speed at 18.6Mbps – compared to an average of 14.7Mbps.

For Vodafone, average downloads were 16.4Mbps, O2 was 13.9Mbps and Three was 8.5Mbps.

The report found that 97% of test samples across the four operators provided 4G download speeds higher than 2Mbps.

EE delivered 4G download speeds faster than 2Mbps in 99.8% of test samples, compared with 98.7% for Vodafone, 98.1% for O2, and 89.9% of samples for Three.

Vodafone and O2 began offering 4G services at the end of summer 2013, while Three launched 4G in March last year.

EE also beat its rivals when it came to 4G upload speeds in the towns and cities tested, providing 17.6Mbps.

It was followed by O2 at 13.2Mbps, Vodafone at 13.1Mbps, and Three with average 4G upload speeds of 9.4Mbps.

Eight times faster than 3G

The average 4G upload speed was 13.6Mbps – eight times faster than 3G at 1.6Mbps, Ofcom said.

EE, Vodafone and O2 delivered upload speeds faster than 10Mbps in more than two thirds of test samples (69.7% for EE, 68.7% for Vodafone and 68.5% for O2).

But for Three, less than half (47.4%) of its upload speed test samples were faster than 10Mbps.

Ofcom also looked at the latency of 4G mobile broadband.

Latency is the time it takes for information to travel from a device or console to the internet and back and is important for things like gaming and video calls.

EE had the lowest average latency on 4G at 48.4milliseconds, compared to 50.9ms for Three, 55.2ms for O2, and 59.5ms for Vodafone.

The average latency across all 4G networks tested was 53.1ms, compared with 63.5ms on 3G.

The Ofcom research showed that latency on 4G was more consistent than other measures that were tested, with each operator seeing more than 80% of test samples providing latency speeds within 40ms and 80ms.

The watchdog also looked at the speed of web browsing – one of the most popular activities on 4G – measuring the time it took to load a standard web page.

Across all four networks, 83.4% of samples provided 4G page loading speeds of less than a second.

But the proportion was lower for EE (62.9%), with nearly a third (29.9%) of the network’s web browsing test samples failing to load within 15s.

The research, which provides a snapshot of 3G and 4G performance for the four networks, is hoped to give consumers important information and also to encourage providers to improve their service.

Changing markets

In the five towns and cities, the fastest average 4G speeds across all four networks were in Poole/Bournemouth and Newcastle, at 15.6Mbps and 15.3Mbps respectively. This compared with 14.8Mbps in Leeds, 14.7Mbps in Edinburgh and 13.2Mbps in London.

Leeds had the fastest average web browsing speed on 4G, at 0.71s to load a standard web page.

Edinburgh, London and Poole/Bournemouth all recorded an average web browsing speed of 0.72s while it was 0.76s in Newcastle.

Ofcom said the mobile market continues to change as operators invest in their networks. An agreement with the government announced in December saw EE, O2, Three and Vodafone agree to invest £5bn to improve mobile coverage as part of efforts to eliminate not-spots.

It said coverage for 3G mobile ranged from 90-98% between operators in March 2015, while 4G coverage varied between 53% and 81%.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said: “People are increasingly connected, communicating and sharing content on their mobiles when out and about.

“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.”

Ofcom plans to carry out more testing of 3G and 4G, publishing another report later this year.

[UPDATE: EE said the web browsing measurement was "flawed" and not representative of typical consumer usage.

A spokesperson said: "This measurement is based on access to a private server, that no regular customer would ever visit. This is not what we would expect from the regulator.

"For a report designed to help consumers choose a mobile service we find this misleading, and inconsistent with Ofcom’s own objectives.”]

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