Three comes top in latest London to Edinburgh mobile broadband test

Broadband comparison site Broadband Genie, and PC Advisor, has just announced the results of its 2014 Mobile Broadband Road Trip, and it’s great news for Three!

Regular visitors to this site will know that I’ve always been interested in network comparisons, and running speed tests of each mobile operator. Naturally, I was interested to hear about another test that would venture a lot further – and also do things on the move!

Having run a series of tests during the journey from London to Edinburgh, Three topped every single test conducted by an eager team of testers, which included separate tests of 3G and 4G networks.

The road trip team, at a train station. Shouldn't this be a rail trip?
The road trip team, at a train station? Shouldn’t this be a mobile broadband rail trip? Just sayin’…

Broadband Genie editor, Matt Powell, said: “Mobile broadband has come a long way since last year’s Road Trip. Our testing found that the new technology deployed by networks isn’t just limited to the lab, it’s having a positive impact which makes mobile internet faster and more useful for everyone.”

“This year’s Road Trip had some of the best results we’ve ever seen”, he added.

Although Three currently has the smallest level of 4G coverage, having launched 4G last, Powell explained that “Not only is 4G delivering a great mobile internet experience there’s also been an improvement in 3G performance. Three in particular stood out as its 3G was faster than all other services.”

A number of tests were carried out, from streaming data to simply being able to carry out very basic checks (like accessing a web page). Three took not only the overall winner position, but also won each individual test.

The result data noted that Three managed a 90% completion rate, with near constant connectivity for the whole four-hour train ride.

This left EE in second place, despite having superior 4G coverage over every network, with O2 in third place, and Vodafone trailing last.

Fastest Mobile Broadband 2014 results

Network Average speed Top speed
Three 3G 4.48 Mbps 15.41 Mbps
Three 4G 6.19 Mbps 19.53 Mbps
EE 3G 2.62 Mbps 7.64 Mbps
EE 4G 3.99 Mbps 12.34 Mbps
O2 3G 2.03 Mbps 4.27 Mbps
O2 4G 4.13 Mbps 11.83 Mbps
Vodafone 3G 1.21 Mbps 1.95 Mbps
Vodafone 4G 3.2 Mbps 7.92 Mbps


Update: 1200 BST

When discussing these results on another forum, it was mentioned by another person that it wasn’t completely clear on how the tests were conducted for both 3G and 4G, or how the tests referred to coverage – given EE would be expected to win on geographical coverage of 4G over Three.

I therefore asked for some more clarification and am pleased to be able to give some more detail that will hopefully clear up any concerns people may have. Some of the details on the Broadband Genie website will now be revised, with more detailed results published in the near future.

Statement from Matt Powell, editor of Broadband Genie:

“The 4G dongles had the same number of tests run at the same time as the 3G devices. This does mean that when 4G wasn’t available the dongles will have fallen back on 3G. We did make sure to give every 4G network a chance by running tests in central London where they all report 4G availability, and also deliberately ran tests when we arrived in larger towns and cities to give a good mix of results as a lot of that route is rural.

The reason we did it this way is to approach it from the viewpoint of a typical mobile broadband customer, who we feel won’t necessarily be aware of the technicalities and may not be checking constantly to see if they’re connected to 3G or 4G – we think many people just care whether or not they have a connection and how efficiently it’s performing (but the data recorded is there to back up what we’re saying and show that the networks have been put to the test). Ultimately what we found was that Three (3G & 4G) held onto a connection far better than any other network and delivered excellent performance with it, hence our decision. EE was very good too and gave some decent results, but with fewer tests completed.

When we talk about coverage in relation to the Road Trip we are talking about the completion rate of the tests so it’s about how stable and consistent a connection each network was able to maintain throughout the journey. Saying coverage is a neat way to sum this up. EE’s 4G network is, on paper, much bigger than any other provider and it can be very fast but right now we’d judge Three as the better choice for nationwide mobile broadband access because not only do you get 4G in many locations but its 3G service is widespread and very fast, to the point where sometimes the difference between 4G and 3G is barely discernible in practice.

How we came to the decision on the coverage award is explained on the page but that line about EE could do with rewording to clarify. I’ll also add some further details about 4G to make that clearer, and detailed results of our testing will be published in a blog post next week to provide further information for anyone who is interested in seeing more numbers.

Obviously we only tested the networks in a comparatively small part of the country so this needs to be kept in mind when considering the results; we would always urge anyone to confirm coverage themselves before buying any mobile service. It’d be nice to extend the feature to cover a vast area of the country but we chose this route as it covers a significant distance across England and goes into Scotland.

If you look at the previous Road Trips (before 2013) they were a lot smaller in scale so we are always looking to improve things, I’m already considering how we can better handle the differences between 3G and 4G for next year so feedback like this is really helpful.”


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