The O2 arena in London

UK mobile broadband users accessing the web over dongles and datacards are getting average throughput of 1.5Mbit/s, according to research released Thursday by UK regulator Ofcom. But there were significant differences between the five carriers’ performance, with O2 delivering the best performance, and Orange the worst. 3UK outperformed T-Mobile, with which it shares a 3G network.

A panel of more than 1,000 consumers had software installed on their laptops by network measurement specialist Epitiro, which carried out the research on behalf of Ofcom. It was this software that yielded the 1.5Mbit/s average speed. Epitiro also set up static test instruments to mimic dongle-connected laptops in 97 UK locations in a bid to measure the networks’ performance under ideal conditions.

This element of the study, which measured the networks at points where the coverage was very good, showed higher performances. Average speed rose to 2.1Mbits/s, with O2 nearing 3Mbits/s. Overall more than 4.2 million tests were carried out across the five network operators. As well as delivering the fastest throughput, O2 also offered the lowest latency of the five carriers.

Orange and T-Mobile, recently brought together to form Everything Everywhere, were the worst performing of the five UK operators. The consumer panel research ranked the operators in the same positions as the static probe tests, according to Iain Wood, EVP marketing and product development at Epitiro.

Wood told Telecoms.com that the latency is a bigger issue for operators than the throughput they deliver. A real world average of 1.5Mbit/s is adequate for the web surfing that typifies most UK mobile broadband usage, but the latency, which Wood said averaged around 100 milliseconds, would “hamper responsive web surfing and prevent the watching of videos, online gaming and possibly VoIP usage.”

While the results will give O2, which in 2009 had to apologise to users for the poor performance of its network, some positive marketing collateral, Everything Everywhere will be smarting. In particular T-Mobile, where some executives are known to have voiced concerns over the merger of its 3G network with 3UK, will be galled to see its sharing partner outperforming it in such a study.

Ofcom’s research, which is the first study into mobile broadband speeds the regulator has published, also found that 17 per cent of UK households use mobile broadband. Furthermore, seven per cent are using it as their sole means of internet access, up from three per cent in 2009. The regulator said that it plans to carry out a similar study for smartphone use in the future.

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