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No Olympic Records Expected For Slow London Mobile Broadband

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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London finishes 23rd in 3G speeds survey, raising doubts about its ability to cope with heavy Olympic demands

London has the slowest mobile broadband of any of the UK’s largest cities and its 3G network is likely to struggle with the demands placed on it by the Olympics, according to a report by uSwitch.

London finished 23rd out of 30 cities overall, while an additional survey revealed just six percent of respondents were happy with the “very fast” speed of their mobile Internet.

Olympian problems

Portsmouth finished top of the pile with average speeds of 3.46Mbps (megabits per second)with 3G users in London experiencing speeds of just 2.71Mbps. Birmingham also had slower speeds than smaller cities such as Edinburgh, Leeds and Liverpool, although not as slow as neighbouring Wolverhampton, which finished dead last.

Speeds of individual networks were also tested and the results showed that O2 was the fastest with 3.22Mbps. Vodafone was not too far behind with 2.95Mbps, but T-Mobile users will not be happy with download speeds of just 1.646Mbps.

Although it seems that most 3G users are unhappy anyway. Of the 1,000 people questioned in a survey, 29 percent said they were unhappy with their current speeds and 47 percent declared their links to be “slow”. Just six percent were “happy” and nearly half said that coverage was “patchy”.

Nine out of 10 users said they had encountered blackspots with no 3G coverage, while receiving a good connection on public transport was also a source of grief.

Economically important

“As you’d expect, UK cities  are better serviced by mobile Internet than rural areas, but the 3G experience is  frustrating for many, even those living and working in large urban conurbations,” commented Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch. “Across large swathes of the UK, and worryingly in some of the country’s most populated towns and cities, 3G connections are simply not consistent enough at the moment, with too many users experiencing drop-offs and blackspots.”

“Advancements in mobile communications technology and the rollout of fourth generation mobile Internet [4G] will be crucial if Britain hopes to remain an economic force on the world stage and compete in the global marketplace,” he added. “More and more businesses are becoming reliant on mobile Internet but, without adequate investment across networks, aspirations of mobile broadband speeds of up to 20 times faster than are currently achieved will be just a pipe dream.”

Ofcom has persistently delayed the auction of 4G spectrum in the UK and in its latest proposals for the process it suggested that coverage be extended to 98 percent of the population in an effort to eliminate broadband ‘not spots’. However, it has warned that the delays will mean 4G services may not be available in the UK for another four years.

The absence of an adequate 4G network has led to fears that the demand placed on 3G networks during the Olympics will push the UK’s wireless infrastructure to its limits, leading to plans to create a free Wi-Fi network during the games to cope with demand.