Ofcom, in conjunction with broadband monitoring specialists Epitiro, has published the results of its mobile broadband study, measuring the service from all five mobile operators in the UK.
The results of the testing, carried out between September and December 2010, put O2 top with the highest average speeds and the lowest latency rates.
In addition to O2, Vodafone and Three came close behind and offered higher average download speeds than both T-Mobile and Orange. Later in 2011, Orange and T-Mobile (which includes Three) will merge the two networks into one.
The study ran 4.2 million tests carried out on all five mobile operators at fixed locations around the UK, to test connections in towns and rural areas. The tests were carried out at different times of the day, with measurements taken for overall speed, latency and DNS look-ups.
In good 3G coverage areas, Ofcom found the average mobile broadband speed to be 2.1Mbps, dropping to around 1.7Mbps during the peak evening period.
Coverage quality was found to be the most important factor affecting speed, as against heavy network usage, with Ofcom recommending users check network coverage before buying a service. Ofcom has published a consumer guide to mobile broadband containing useful advice.
In comparison to fixed line broadband services, a basic web page took an average of 2.2 seconds to load using mobile broadband, compared to 0.5 seconds or less on a wired broadband service. Average speeds for fixed line broadband is now at 6.2Mbps (based on a separate study from November/December 2010).
17% of UK households now use mobile broadband to go online, compared to just 3% in 2009.