The take-up of mobile broadband in the United Kingdom has increased significantly in the last three years, according to Ofcom. There were around 4.8 million active mobile broadband subscribers using data cards or dongles at the end of 2010 compared to 2.6 million at the end of 2008, Ofcom reports. Read more here.

Download speeds were measured during the day at an average of 1.5Mbps. Overall, there was no significant slowdown in the peak evening period of 8-10 pm, but speeds did rise to an average of 1.9Mbps in the off-peak hours of midnight to 6 am.

Significantly, an increasing number of households are also using mobile broadband as their only means to connect to the Internet. The Ofcom research finds that seven percent of U.K. households used mobile broadband as their only Internet connection, compared to just three percent of households in the first quarter of 2009.

That finding also rests on use of third generation mobile access. As fourth generation mobile broadband becomes available, the attractiveness of mobile broadband will increase.

With fixed-broadband levelling off at around 65 percent penetration, it appears
that the growth in overall household broadband take-up is now being driven by households getting online for the first time using mobile broadband.

Recent research from Ofcom also shows that 86 percent of mobile broadband dongle users access the service while at home.

For some consumers, mobile broadband, given its costs and added flexibility is
already proving to be an adequate substitute for fixed broadband. This is despite the
fact that average speed, latency and web page download times for mobile broadband
perform at levels lower than those typically delivered by fixed broadband services.
The average mobile broadband speed of 1.5Mbps based on the consumer panel
results compares with the average fixed broadband speed of 6.2 Mbps.

Network latency on mobile broadband services also is almost double the average
delivered on some fixed line services. This means that webpage browsing is typically
considerably slower using a mobile broadband connection rather than a fixed
broadband connection. But buying continues to rise, despite those technical limitations.

According to Ofcom consumer research, levels of satisfaction with mobile broadband
services were similar to fixed broadband services in the first quarter of 2011. Overall satisfaction with mobile broadband was 88 percent in in the first quarter of 2011, compared to 89 percent for fixed services.

That bears repeating: mobile broadband users were virtually as happy with their services as fixed-line customers.

Also, despite the clear disparities, 80 percent of mobile broadband users were either very or fairly satisfied with the download speeds provided by their connection, the same level as that of fixed broadband users (80 percent). That finding should be perplexing to some. Given the better technical performance of fixed line services, one might assume that mobile broadband satisfaction should be lower.

But there are lots of value drivers for mobile products, beyond raw performance. It is highly possible that mobility is such a high value that mobile capabilities outweigh the performance disadvantages.

Levels of satisfaction with mobile broadband services also have risen since 2009, with a
significant rise in satisfaction with the speed of the service. This may reflect improvements in the quality of service delivered to consumers, but also reflect greater consumer awareness as to the type of services suited to mobile broadband and more realistic expectations as to what levels of speed the service can deliver, Ofcom says.

Still, users are aware of the differences. Ofcom research found that the main causes of dissatisfaction with mobile broadband using dongles or USB sticks were related to speed. About 34 percent of laptop and dongle out-of-home users cited slow download speed as the main cause of dissatisfaction.

“Our research finds that on average, mobile broadband services perform worse than
all the fixed-line broadband services we measured in the same period,” Ofcom says. “Mobile broadband performs below fixed broadband service levels in technical metrics such as download speeds, latency and DNS resolution time.”

For applications including web browsing, file downloading, VoIP, video streaming and on-line game playing, mobile broadband services are likely to perform at a lower standard than fixed broadband service.

But demand is not based strictly and simply on such parameters. Mobile broadband and fixed broadband do of course serve different needs: mobile broadband is suitable for those wishing to use broadband from different locations or in locations where a fixed-line is not available, and fixed broadband services may be more suitable for users wishing to use bandwidth-heavy services or download large amounts of data.

For policymakers, the issues are expected performance compared to investment cost. Some might argue that fixed-line networks sometimes are less costly than mobile networks.

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