Friday, November 21, 2014

UK Regulator Issues Report on Speed and Coverage

Ofcom, the U.K.’s telecom regulator, has issued a new report on the state of mobile broadband. It is based on the results of roughly 210,000 tests from five major cities—Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester. The study included the U.K.’s four largest MNOs—EE, O2, Three and Vodafone—and ranked them on the following metrics: average download and upload speeds (see graphs below), average time to load a web page and average latency (all of these for 3G and 4G). Also included in a separate section of the report were assessments of each operator’s current 3G and 4G coverage for June 2014 and October 2014. While the results were mixed across the multiple statistics, the strongest performer was EE, which posted the fastest 3G and 4G download speeds, fastest 4G upload speed and highest coverage percentages. With regard to the study, Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards stated, “Improving mobile quality of service is an important area of Ofcom’s work. Our research both incentivizes mobile providers to offer a higher quality of service while helping consumers choose a mobile package that best suits their needs.”

Unsurprisingly, the operators that did not perform particularly well have already issued statements calling the study’s results into question. While we appreciate that other operators might have performed better if a different set of cities had been chosen or if more rural areas had been included, we believe the data collection techniques and metrics used in the Ofcom study are statistically sound and that its results provide a relatively comprehensive picture of mobile broadband service in the U.K.

We applaud Ofcom for undertaking this type of serious study and publishing the results in a format accessible to laymen and believe that this represents a strong example of regulatory best practices. We have often criticized regulators for being overly involved in dictating mobile prices and service/coverage thresholds. While these goals are admirable, these kinds of top-down regulation are too often heavy-handed, inflexible and counterproductive. This newest Ofcom study represents a smart step in the other direction. The greatest challenge for consumers in the mobile ecosystem is the abstractness of the product—such things as download speed, network latency and 4G coverage are not intuitively obvious to many—and it is in the interest of each operator to advertise only the metrics in which its network performs best.

Most consumers are capable of weighing the benefits of increased coverage or speeds against greater monthly costs or reduced allotments, but what stops them is the fact that available information is often limited, contradictory or derived from suspect sources. By conducting a thorough survey and publishing the results, Ofcom is creating an environment in which each operator has every incentive to improve its network’s performance, since they know that its progress will be tracked and reported on by an independent actor. We believe that this program will help the U.K. increase its mobile broadband speed and coverage much faster and at much lower cost than the traditional top-down approaches. 

The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues or to speak with the research team:

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