Ofcom's first research into mobile broadband performance since its 4G auction in 2013 shows LTE delivers much higher speeds than 3G, but there are considerable differences in performance between operators and cities.
The UK regulator's research, conducted in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester between March and June 2014, registered average LTE download speeds of 15.1 Mbps--more than double the 6.1 Mbps recorded on 3G networks.
Despite the strong headline speeds, not all operators were equal in the cities measured. Ofcom found EE and O2 provided the fastest 4G download speeds of 18.4 Mbps and 15.6 Mbps respectively, with Vodafone posting 14.3 Mbps and Three UK--the last to roll out 4G services--10.7 Mbps.
EE and Vodafone delivered the fastest average 3G download speeds of 6.8 Mbps and 6.7 Mbps respectively, with O2 recording 5.6 Mbps and Three, 5.2 Mbps.
When it comes to uploading content, the data showed that 4G speeds were more than seven times faster than for 3G. EE (14.7 Mbps) and O2's (13.0 Mbps) 4G upload speeds were above average, followed by Vodafone and Three with 11.4 Mbps and 11.1 Mbps respectively.
Three achieved the fastest average 3G upload speed of 1.7 Mbps, compared to 1.6 Mbps for EE and O2 and 1.5 Mbps for Vodafone. Three also fared well on web browsing, offering the fastest experience on 4G and 3G.
"Having fast, reliable broadband on the move is vital for many consumers and businesses across the UK," Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said, adding. "Today's research shows 4G is providing a significantly enhanced mobile broadband experience to customers, which we expect to be available to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017 at the latest."
EE had the highest 4G network coverage across the UK by October 2014: 70 per cent, compared to 51 per cent for both O2 and Vodafone. Figures for Three were not included.
In terms of 3G, EE and Three both had 98 per cent 3G network coverage by June, compared to 91 per cent for O2 and 87 per cent for Vodafone.
Network performance also varied between cities. Edinburgh recorded the highest average download speeds for both 4G and 3G, while London posted the lowest. Manchester had the highest average 4G upload speed, with Glasgow and London the lowest.
Ofcom engineers used smartphones to carry out 210,000 tests of network coverage indoors and outside. The regulator plans to publish a second phase of research in spring 2015.
On November 7 Ofcom also announced plans to release new mobile spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands that can be used for mobile broadband services including LTE. An auction is expected to take place in late 2015 or early 2016, and the regulator has asked potential bidders to comment on the proposals.
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