Thursday, 11 June 2009

MBB users in the UK get 900Kbit/s on average

According to a new study by Epitiro (no, me neither), the average mobile broadband download speed in the UK is 900Kbit/s. On average users are receiving 24% of the advertised speed, web browsing is 34% slower than on DSL and latency is such that game-playing is not possible. The test seems to have had a pretty robust methodology. 1.4 million tests from 1300 users.

A couple of things spring to mind. Firstly, 900Kbit/s sounds OK. Certainly good enough for browsing. Not quite enough to comfortably stream over-the-top video or play games, but my assumption was always that people who wanted to use high bandwidth services would need to maintain a DSL/cable connection anyway. For these users MBB is a complement, not a replacement.

Secondly, I'm sure there is wild variation within that average. If everyone received 900Kbit/s 90% of the time and there was very little variance there would be a strong argument for MNOs advertising THAT rate. As it is, the variance is massive. Personally, if I could get a guaranteed 100Kbit/s on my mobile broadband, I'd be happy. For this reason the only logical approach is to advertise the theoretical maximum and attach caveats that the signal is likely to degrade due to various factors and you won't always get that, as per the recent announcement by the UK Mobile Broadband Group. Attempting to advertise actual speeds is impossible.

Interestingly the recorded speeds increased by 11% over the period of the study (Dec 08 to May 09) indicating that fears of demand massively outstripping supply have been unfounded. On a related note, Kenneth Karlberg of TeliaSonera commented yesterday at the Open Mobile Summit that data networks will crash if MNOs continue to sell flat-rates. Hence, presumably TS's decision recently to increase prices. This does not seem to be the case in the UK.


  1. Variance works in two ways. There's the massive variation in speed, but also huge variation in coverage. In the area of Milton Keynes where I work, on Vodafone I can only get GPRS, which seem astonishing. It's a long way from being rural.

    Outside urban areas, perhaps we shouldn't expect much more than GPRS, but you don't have to go far to lose 3G. I live about 3-4 miles fom a big conurbation, but from the dismal mobile broadband service from all operators you'd think it was a remote backwater.

    I'm an enthuiast for mobile broadband, but I know lots of people who have tried it and been disappointed. I think they do not appreciate the technical problems of providing the kind of service they were expecting. Their unrealistic expectations, it must be said, were largely created by the operators themelves.

  2. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any other option than to promote the headline rate.

    Imagine a conversation between a potential customer and a network operator:

    Customer: How fast is MBB?
    MNO: It depends on how far you are from a base station, how many other people are using it and several other factors.
    Customer: OK, so how fast is it?
    MNO: It's difficult to predict and if I tell you how fast it CAN be, you'll be misled.
    Customer: OK, thanks.

    Surely the only option is to advertise practical headline speed and add caveats, there's really no alternative.