Ofcom to take a census of UK mobile broadband performance

Communications regulator Ofcom commissioned research on mobile broadband performance in the UK. The move is an effort to standardise the methodology for measuring mobile data connectivity, in a similar way to fixed line broadband performance.

The regulator has awarded a contract worth £238,100 to broadband performance company SamKnows.

The aim of the research, which will be conducted between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2015, is to obtain a greater understanding of the performance of mobile broadband services delivered to users of tablets and smartphones on the UK’s four mobile networks.

It will examine how this varies by operator, location and time of day, in order to help consumers make more informed choices when selecting a broadband service.

Ofcom said it intends to publish the results of the full research in six reports in approximately six-monthly intervals.

Mobile broadband penetration in the UK is at roughly 64 per cent, according to the European Commission’s Digital Agenda Scoreboard.

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Data from broadband comparison site Broadband Genie suggests that the average mobile download speed in the UK is only 1-2Mbps.

Ofcom's own report on the country's mobile broadband speeds, published in May 2011, also found that the average download speed was 1.5Mbps.

This research, conducted by Epitiro, looked specifically at the performance of USB modems and datacards, and did not include data from smartphones.

The arrival of 4G technology in the UK should bring a dramatic improvement in mobile internet speeds, with O2 claiming to have achieved up to 150Mbps in trials. However, this will not become widely available until after Ofcom's auction of 4G spectrum.

The 4G auction was originally supposed to take place in 2008, but has been repeatedly set back, as Ofcom tries to devise a strategy for distributing spectrum without giving any network operator an unfair advantage. It is currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2012.

Earlier this year, Labour's shadow minister for media, Helen Goodman, warned that repeated delays are costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue each year. She said the auction could raise between £2 billion and £4 billion in capital, and generate about £300 million a year in licence fees.