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New UK Carrier Data Shows Network Speeds Dropping

April 2, 2015 - Written By David Steele

Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s telecom regulator, has announced that Great Britain’s new 4G LTE networks were running slower at the end of 2014 compared with the start. This is exactly as expected because the British telecom operators are rapidly growing their subscriber base and the more customers with access to a given network technology, the more handsets that must share the same bandwidth. Ofcom’s test was carried across all four UK networks, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, in a number of large and small cities over the country. The average of all tests was down to 14.7 Mbps compared with 15.1 Mbps in the second quarter. The new LTE networks are on average slower than the typical fixed line broadband connection speed, which is close to 19 Mbps. This average speed drop is mirrored by 3G networks, which showed a fall from 6.1 Mbps to 5.9 Mbps over the same time period.

The Ofcom statement states the obvious that “As more people are taking 4G services from the mobile operators, this is likely to affect the average speeds being received.” Of course, this is dependent on many factors because the networks are building out capacity along with their networks. And when we look at the detail of the test, only two cities (London and Edinburgh) were tested in both Q2 and Q4, whereas more areas were testing in Q4 including those cities that already had coverage in Q2. As such, the headline information is interesting but the information is somewhat limited. We’ll need to wait a few months before Q2 data is released and we can then compare the 2014 Q4 data with 2015 Q2 information.

As for the individual networks, EE can claim to have both the largest and fastest performing network, showing 81% LTE population coverage and an average transfer speed of 18.6 Mbps. Three’s LTE network has the lowest coverage at 53% and the slowest speed of 8.5 Mbps. Vodafone and O2’s LTE coverage and transfer speeds are between Three and EE. However, all of these carriers are still developing their LTE coverage. At the time of writing, only EE has the necessary spectrum and frequency ranges to enable higher performance LTE standards but the Three / O2 deal could change things here. However, given the information to hand it appears that the UK carriers need to continue to invest in their infrastructure.