Orange trails pack in mobile broadband race

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The Independent Online

Orange has been named as the worst-performing network for mobile broadband in the UK in a study commissioned by the telecoms watchdog.

Ofcom yesterday released the first survey measuring average speed and performance of dongles and data cards used on the five mobile operators' networks.

Research carried out for the regulator by Epitiro found that the average downloading speeds for Orange customers was under 1.5Mb, slower than T-Mobile, Vodafone, O2 and 3.

Insiders at Orange admitted that it had suffered capacity issues on its network when the survey was carried out at the end of last year.

A spokesman for the group added: "Since this research was conducted six months ago, we've delivered significant improvements as part of ongoing investment in our network which has had a positive effect on both speed and capacity."

About 17 per cent of UK households are using mobile broadband to get online, with 7 per cent using it as their only means of connecting to the internet. This is up from just 3 per cent two years ago.

Epitiro found that the average download speed for mobile broadband across all networks was 1.5Mb, meaning basic websites took 8.5 seconds to download.

Fixed broadband networks take less than half a second to download the same pages, according to Ofcom. Gavin Johns, the chief executive of Epitiro, said: "Speeds are going to be lower on mobile, but you pay for the convenience of being mobile." In good 3G coverage areas, mobile broadband improved to 2.1Mb, although that decreased in evening peak times, with the web pages taking 2.2 seconds to load.

O2 delivered web pages faster than the other four operators and had lower latency – the time data travels from the computer to a website's server and back – than everyone but T-Mobile.

Latency is the main reason why mobile broadband is slower than fixed line, and is crucial for voice services over the internet as well as online gaming.

Ofcom pointed to the actual coverage of the networks as the most important factor affecting mobile broadband performance, adding that with slower download speeds than fixed line it is unsuitable for heavy users.

Hamish MacLeod, the chairman of the Mobile Broadband Group, said the industry "recognises that this survey was an important thing to do and recognises broadband as a serious part of mobile communications infrastructure".

Latency and downloading speeds for mobile broadband will be cut dramatically with the introduction of 4G services, Mr Johns said. His company has been studying the results of the next generation networks in Helsinki.

The additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK will be auctioned next year, and 4G services are expected to be introduced from early 2013.

Ofcom said yesterday that in the wake of this report it would also study network performance for smartphone devices.