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UK mobile broadband "twice as fast as fixed line"?

Barry Collins
30 Jun 2015
Mobile broadband dongle
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New figures from Akamai suggest Britain's mobile broadband is far faster than fixed line

The average speed of mobile broadband connections in the UK is almost twice as fast as fixed-line connections, according to questionable new figures from Akamai. The startling figures come in Akamai’s regular State of the Internet report, which claims the UK has by far the fastest mobile broadband of any country.

Average mobile broadband speeds in the UK are 20.4Mbtis/sec, according to Akamai’s figures, streets ahead of second placed Denmark, which has an average of 10Mbits/sec. UK fixed-line connections, meanwhile, have an average speed of only 11.6Mbits/sec, leaving the UK languishing in 21st in the world speed table.

Before you rush out to cancel your home broadband connection and hook the home router to 4G, there are more than a few caveats to Akamai’s findings. Firstly, it’s not clear whether Akamai’s data is geographically representative – we suspect the mobile broadband figures have been skewed upwards by measurements taken in major cities with 4G networks. Indeed, Akamai measured a maximum connection speed of 90.9Mbits/sec in its tests, suggesting the average has been dragged upwards by a small number of very fast connections.

Secondly, Akamai’s figures pay no regard to traffic shaping and data caps imposed by mobile networks. Most mobile networks will limit the speed of certain protocols (most notably peer-to-peer traffic) and impose strict monthly data limits, which means that even if the connection is theoretically capable of 20Mbits/sec that won’t translate to real-world benefits. For example, at the UK average speed of 20.4Mbits/sec, you would only get just over six minutes of downloads before bursting a 1GB monthly data cap. Fixed-line connections have much more generous allowances. 

Still, even if the mobile broadband figures do give a somewhat misleading impression of the state of the UK's infrastructure, it does suggest the rollout of 4G networks has significantly improved the state of mobile broadband. The UK's average mobile speed has increased 28% since the last quarter. 

The big question is why fibre broadband rollout hasn't significantly improved the fixed-line measurements? Fixed line speeds have only increased by 17% over the past year, according to Akamai, despite millions more homes being connected to lines with download speeds of 38Mbits/sec upwards. 

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