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Three outperforms EE, O2 and Vodafone in Ofcom’s 4G four-way

Three might only be able to muster the slowest 4G download speeds, but the tiny network makes for a more satisfying experience, according to Ofcom. 

The telecoms regulator has ranked the UK’s four main networks for download and upload speeds, web browsing speeds and latency and found that Three performs the best overall – despite delivering slower speeds than EE, O2 and Vodafone. 

Over 210,000 tests were carried out on a range of publicly available phones in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow this summer. 

Three outperforms EE, O2 and Vodafone in Ofcom’s 4G four-way
Three gives the best overall performance – shame its 4G footprint is so small

Despite EE’s average download speeds clocking in around the 30Mbps back in 2013 according to analysts RootMetrics, this report found that the 4G network delivered average speeds of around 18Mbps – just a hair above the UK’s average fixed line speed.  

O2’s average 4G download speed measured 15.6Mbit/s, Vodafone managed to get 14.3Mbit/s up while Three’s average speed was a comparatively flaccid 10.7Mbit/s. 

Despite this, Ofcom found that Three had the fastest web browsing speed over both 4G and 3G proving that it’s not just about how many megabits you’ve got. 

The time taken to load a standard web page on Three was 0.62 seconds over 4G and 0.93 seconds over 3G. Second place EE would on average load pages in 0.76 seconds over 4G and 1.05 seconds over 3G. 

Three was also ranked the best for latency – how laggy the network is – on both 4G and 3G. Measured in milliseconds (ms), latency tests aim to figure out how long it takes for a piece of data to travel to a server and return a response to a phone. In layman’s terms it’s a good way to measure how well things like Skype and iPlayer will work on phones. 

Three’s average 4G latency was 47.6ms while the highest latency on 4G was for O2, at 62.7ms. Average 3G latency on Vodafone was 64.7ms and 59.8ms on 4G, while on EE latency measured 64.3ms and 48.2 for 3G and 4G. Generally speaking, 100ms or above will mean that you’ll start to notice serious delays in video calls. 

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Improving mobile quality of service is an important area of Ofcom’s work. Our research both incentivises mobile providers to offer a higher quality of service, while helping consumers choose a mobile package that best suits their needs.” 

Three outperforms EE, O2 and Vodafone in Ofcom’s 4G four-way
How they all measure up: Ee still rules the roost for download speeds

Vodafone isn’t impressed with Ofcom’s report, saying that the survey, conducted between March and June this year, could potentially mislead customers. 

A spokesperson said: “These results were undertaken over six months ago and don’t give consumers a full picture as there were only a small number of tests undertaken, in a small number of cities and only taken in places where the majority of operators had coverage.” 

Since June, both Vodafone and EE have launched LTE-A (LTE-Advanced) services, which promise to greatly increase and improve speeds and the web browsing experience. 

If EE’s claims about it’s LTE-A service are to be believed, customers will be able to enjoy average download speeds of 90Mbps once the rollout kicks off in earnest next year. 

Despite Three outperforming every other network, its actual 4G footprint is much smaller. EE is the most widely available 4G network, boasting coverage of over 70 per cent of the UK population. Vodafone and O2 both hold 51 per cent, while Three is much lower, not even registering on Ofcom’s chart. 

Ofcom expects 4G to be available to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017 and will be doing everything it can to help networks achieve the targets. 

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