Mobile Broadband Genie Road Trip 2010: overall analysis

Editors note: We recently published the outcome of our latest Road Trip, a test of the UK’s mobile broadband providers which aims to put mobile internet under scrutiny in real-world conditions.

Here you'll find the analysis for the Mobile Broadband Genie Road Test 2010. For this, the second running of the annual test, we again ran dongles of the five top mobile broadband networks (O2, Orange, 3 Mobile, T-Mobile and Vodafone) and the leading consumer MVNO (Virgin Media) in a straight battle across 350-miles of train tracks.

With laptops in hand, the Genie team took a return trip from Cambridge to Bournemouth, changing in central London, testing the dongles simultaneously throughout the journey. You read lots of tests done in people's cosy London offices, but we're out to see if they really deliver "on the move" - one of mobile broadband's big selling points.


We requested test dongles from each supplier and received the following: Huawei E160 (O2), Huawei E1752 (Orange), Huawei E1750 (3), ZTE MF637 (T-Mobile), TCT X200S (Virgin Media), Huawei K3565 (Vodafone).

It was interesting to note that after a clean sweep of Huawei dongles last year, T-Mobile and Virgin Media had broken from the pack. Also, the only supplier who gave us the same dongle as last year was O2.

Mobile Broadband Genie speed tests

Throughout the trip we used the Broadband Genie mobile broadband speedtest, set up in association with Think Broadband. We did more than 10 of our speed tests for each dongle at various points during the trip, as well as checking the tests in Bournemouth once we'd arrived (these weren't used in the overall outcome). They were done in a variety of rural and urban areas.

Overall, there were more failed tests this year than last. No dongle matched Vodafone's record of no fails from 2009, with T-Mobile, 3 and Orange faring best with two fails each. A fail was recorded if a dongle started the test but failed to complete (to the results page) within a reasonable time frame. If the majority of dongles couldn't begin a test, because the reception was very bad due to a very rural location, the test was aborted.

Downloading top speed: The top speeds on this year's tests were a considerable improvement on our 2009 results. T-Mobile's dongle managed several results over 3Mb and Vodafone hit 2Mb, while Virgin Media equalled the speed it took this category with last time out (1.8Mb). O2 and 3 both reached speeds just above 1Mb, improving on 2009, but while much improved on last year's dismal showing, Orange's dongle was still slowest, peaking just below 1Mb. 

Download average speed: T-Mobile saw a massive fluctuation in results, but its massive lead in top speeds saw its average come out on top at around 1.9Mb. Virgin Media had much more consistent results, averaging 1.5Mb, while it was a similar story with Vodafone (1.2Mb). The rest averaged below 1Mb, with O2 (0.8Mb) getting a better average, but suffering the most failures. 3 just pipped Orange, but both were around the 0.5Mb mark. Everyone improved a little on last year, with only T-Mobile's significant top-end improvement making a big move overall.

Upload top speed: There were some significant improvements made in the upload categories this year, with a clear division of winners and losers. 3 (1.6Mb) Virgin Media (1.5Mb) and T-Mobile (0.9Mb) were all really impressive, smashing the 2009 results. However, O2, Orange and Vodafone could only manage around 0.3Mb - the same as last year for the former two, but a small drop for Vodafone, which actually took this category last year with 0.55Mb.

Upload average speed: Virgin Media came out on top by a significant distance, managing an impressive average of more than 1Mb. Both T-Mobile and 3 averaged more than 0.6Mb, big improvements on last year, while being a little erratic. Vodafone, O2 and Orange were at least consistent around the 0.3Mb mark - small progress for Orange, a stand still for O2 and a fall for Vodafone.

Streaming and downloading tests

We also carried out a series of trials designed to test the dongles in the kind of real life situations people will be using them in every day. As last year, we downloaded The Archers and Fighting Talk podcasts, streamed video (YouTube) and also streamed audio (Spotify).

Here, all the operators should be applauded. The streaming of both audio and video content went without a hitch for five of the six dongles in each instance, so we'll put the fails (by different providers each time) down to bad luck. Good job.

The downloading tests were far more varied. Hats off to 3's dongle, which managed to smash last year's Fighting Talk download record in half, grabbing the 20MB file in 1m 24s. However, that was usurped by the T-Mobile dongle downloading the 13MB Archers podcast in just 22 seconds! Vodafone put in a solid set of performances, being stable and reliable without pulling up any trees.

At the other end of the scale, Orange failed to finish either one - it just wasn't fast enough to get the download finished before a dodgy patch of coverage came along, breaking the signal. And in fairness, it probably would have completed the Fighting Talk podcast if we hadn't have cut it off after 12 minutes of painful slowness! Virgin Media was strangely slow in the download tests, while O2 was again disappointing.


Originally published on, now incorporated into Broadband Genie


  • neutral

    by Tim at 16:00 on 22 Apr 2010 Report abuse

    Would be interested to see the performance based on the speed of the train. I get the impression that how fast you are moving makes a difference (i.e. worse as you move faster).

  • neutral

    by fred morris at 10:21 on 21 Sep 2010 Report abuse

    do you have any top up donggles that you can top up and roll over untill top up is required not on a monthly fee

  • unhappy

    by linda calder at 2:08 on 7 Jan 2011 Report abuse

    why is t-mobile so difficult and slow

  • neutral

    by Phil at 16:24 on 8 Feb 2011 Report abuse

    I'd like to see you run the test on the Reading Birmingham run. I can't get anything to work at an acceptable level between Reading and Coventry!

  • happy

    by Victoria at 18:42 on 26 Mar 2011 Report abuse

    Which service provider provides the best coverage between Reading and Oxford? My Virgin phone has very patchy signal throughout the journey and I'm presuming that any dongle I buy from Virgin will be the same. Does anyone have good coverage on this route?

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