Mobile Broadband Genie Road Trip 2011: 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.

Below is the overall analysis for the Mobile Broadband Genie Road Test 2011. After two years of the same format, we made some improvements this year; more dongles, more tests and more tests completed due to taking the trip on a different route. 


This time we ran dongles of the five top mobile broadband networks ( O2, Orange, 3 Mobile, T-Mobile and Vodafone) alongside MVNOs TalkTalk and Virgin Media in a straight battle across 300-miles of train tracks. 

Unfortunately, our BT dongle failed on the morning of the tests (having previously installed and ran without a hitch), so it was not included in the test. Laptops in hand, the entire Genie team travelled on three trains each way from Cambridge to Leeds over a two-day period, changing at Ely and Peterborough, testing the dongles simultaneously throughout the journeys. As in the past, we wanted to see if mobile broadband really can deliver "on the move" - one of its key selling points. 


We requested test dongles from each supplier and received the following: Huawei E1752 (Orange), E169 (O2), K4505 (Vodafone), E367 (Three), E1552 (TalkTalk), 615 (T-Mobile) and the TCT OneTouch X200S (Virgin). As usual there was a strong Huawei dominance, with Virgin sticking with TCT but everyone else going with the dominant Chinese manufacturer. 

We should also note here that Virgin Media and Orange sent us the same model as last year, suggesting a certain dragging of heels in their commitment to mobile broadband. 

Mobile Broadband Genie speed tests 

We regularly used the Broadband Genie mobile broadband speedtest throughout the trip, provided in association with Think Broadband. Including upload and download results, we recorded around 35 results for each dongle - mostly on the move, but with a few in stations (but on the train). They were done in a variety of rural and urban areas. 

Overall, the Three dongle completed the most tests (28), just two ahead of Orange. The big disappointments were O2 and Vodafone, finishing just 10 each. A fail was recorded if a dongle started the test but failed to complete (to the results page) within a reasonable time frame, or if they failed to start at all. A test was only started if at least half the dongles could begin the test. Of all tests started, 10 were completed by less than half the dongles. No speed test was completed by all dongles! 

Downloading top speed: This year we saw no speed tests hit 3Mb - a disappointment after T-Mobile managed this last year, but not really a surprise. As in 2010, two dongles made it above 2Mb, with Three hitting 2.91Mb and O2 2.63Mb. In a complete reverse of last year’s results, the only dongle unable to record a speed of 1Mb was T-Mobile’s (at 0.55Mb). Everyone else was in the 1.2-1.8Mb range for top speed, which is at least respectable. The general range was the same as last year which, taking into consideration the general lack of innovation in the past year in mobile broadband, was not a surprise. 

Download average speed: As last year our eventual winner Three saw a big fluctuation in results, but a string of strong tests saw it average 1.39Mb. This was topped by O2, with a 1.59Mb average, but its huge number of failed tests meant we couldn’t really count it. It was the same story with Vodafone (1.17Mb), while the rest averaged between 0.6-0.8Mb - except T-Mobile, which languished on a 0.34Mb average. Again, these results mirrored the kind of average speeds we saw in 2010, with just the positions changing places. 

Upload top speed: One great result saw Vodafone (1.74Mb) top this table, but its overall poor performance overshadows the result. Three (1.58Mb) was again impressive, alongside respectable results from Orange (0.82Mb) and Virgin (0.79Mb). The rest were 0.3Mb or slower. Three was the only one to emulate its positive result from 2010. 

Upload average speed: It starts to get boring saying it, but the new Three dongle was again out in front. Averaging close to 1Mb for upload speed is impressive, but interesting it was still a fraction behind Virgin’s efforts last year. There was very little to call between Orange (0.52Mb), Vodafone (0.51Mb) and Virgin (0.48Mb), while the rest were even further behind. 

Facebook uploads: We also tried to upload two 5.5MB photos to our Facebook accounts during the trip, with very mixed results. We will extend this area next time, but for the record Orange and Three uploaded both with no problems, Virgin and T-Mobile managed one each, but O2, TalkTalk and Vodafone failed on both attempts. 

Streaming and downloading tests 

Alongside the speed tests, we tried to emulate as much as possible the kind of activities average users will use mobile broadband for. As in previous years, we downloaded content from the BBC website (Fighting Talk and the Mayo/Kermode podcasts) as well as streaming audio from Spotify and video from YouTube. 

However, we downloaded and streamed even more content this year, also attempting to download the Ad-aware and Smart Defrag programs from the Cnet website, adding a real endurance level with the former’s whopping 121MB to download. 

Streaming: Really strong results here from both Three and T-Mobile, completing all the tests without a hitch. TalkTalk, Virgin and Orange performed reasonably well too, completing more than half the tests relatively trouble three, leaving just Vodafone and O2 in the naughty corner. 

In the past we’ve praised the suppliers here, but in truth the streaming technology should be applauded too. Listening to Spotify and watching YouTube are just the kind of thing it’s great to do on the move. 

Downloading: The downloads were more of a mixed bag, including a rare fail for Three. However, it completed a strong three of four downloads which equalled a real surprise from Vodafone, which excelled in all but the large download. Elsewhere it was two of three of the small downloads each, with only Three completing the large download. It looked like Orange would’ve completed it, as it would the other other download it failed, but at a very slow speed so we moved on. 

Overall though, this was a general improvement on last year mainly due to the small amount of restarting that was required. Generally once a download began it made it through, showing a big improvement in staying power compared to general results from previous years. Whether this is due to better overall coverage in middle England is open to debate, as there are some real not-spots on the route south to Bournemouth, especially below London. 

Top results were Orange downloading the 4MB Smart Defrag file in just 23 seconds (a full minute before any other dongle), alongside the 30MB Mayo/Kermode podcast in two minutes (three times faster than the second place dongle). Three managed to download the 25MB Fighting Talk file in two-and-a-half minutes in a generally slow area, completing the mammoth 121MB Adaware in just over 20 minutes. 

The rest still performed well and we’re confident they would have all completed the full set of downloads given more time - when it comes to mobile broadband on the move, speed isn’t everything.


Note: The eagle eyed among you may notice the Three dongle in the foreground of the picture above is not the E367. This is because of the failed BT dongle - we instead used an older Three dongle to see how it would run versus the newer model. Results from this data will be released at a later date.


  • neutral

    by Daniel at 16:34 on 26 May 2011 Report abuse

    "unable to record a speed of 1Mb was T-Mobile’s (at 0.55Mb"

    You did disable the image compression proxy first didnt you as that affects the results. Too many companies are relying on these results when there completely not valid.

    Here For t-mo:
    Here for orange:

    Yep orange now share there mobile broadband network with t-mobile..

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