4G 'significantly outperforms' 3G networks

The UK’s 4G networks perform much better than 3G, a study by the communications regulator has shown, but with considerable variations between operators.

The average download speed for 4G networks was of 14.7Mbit/s compared with 5.9Mbit/s on 3G and it took 0.72 seconds to load a web page, in contrast with 1.04 seconds on 3G, according to figures from Ofcom.

It collected 120,000 test samples on smartphones in five towns and cities where both 4G and 3G networks have been rolled out, including Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle and Poole/Bournemouth.

EE delivered the fastest average 4G download speed of 18.6Mbit/s, surpassing O2, Three and Vodafone, but Three was the quickest on average for web browsing over 4G at 0.63 seconds to load a web page.

Overall, 97 per cent of test samples across EE, O2, Three and Vodafone provided 4G download speeds above 2Mbit/s, typically sufficient to support high-capacity video services.

Across the four networks, 83.4 per cent of test samples provided 4G page loading speeds of under one second. However, the proportion was lower for EE at 62.9 per cent, with nearly a third (29.9 per cent) of EE's web browsing test samples failing to load within 15 seconds.

Ofcom said the research was carried out to help consumers understand how 4G and 3G mobile networks perform, but also to encourage providers to improve their performance.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's consumer and content group director, said: “People are increasingly connected, communicating and sharing content on their mobiles when out and about.

“4G is delivering a significantly enhanced mobile experience and, as these services roll out across the UK; our research will support consumers when choosing the right mobile package for their needs.”

EE’s 4G network now covers 81 per cent of UK homes and businesses. O2 and Vodafone have increased their 4G coverage to 66 and 65 per cent respectively in 2014, while Three’s 4G coverage reached 53 per cent of premises in March 2015.

Latency however was more consistent than the other measures across the 4G networks tested, with an average of 53.1 milliseconds.

Latency represents the responsiveness of the network, measured by recording the time a small piece of data takes to travel to a point and return a response to the user’s device. Lower latency is important for things like gaming, video calls and web browsing.

Each mobile operator saw over 80 per cent of test samples provide latency speeds within 40ms and 80ms.

Read more:
4G and 3G network performance breakdown

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