Mobile Broadband Road Trip 2014 in detail

We recently published the outcome of our 2014 Road Trip, a test of the UK’s mobile broadband providers which aims to put mobile internet under scrutiny in real-world conditions.

The Awards page shows the key results in various categories so if you just want to see where each network ranked head over there, here we’re going to delve into a bit more detail about the testing and results.

You can also read previous Road Trip reports to see how the networks performed before, and how it’s changed since we launched this feature: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

The route and testing methodology

Previous Road Trips have varied the route each year but in 2013 we travelled from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley station (yes, despite the name it actually takes place on a train) and this was so successful we decided to repeat the journey for 2014.

This covers a significant distance up England and takes us into Scotland, and with four hours each way there's plenty of time for testing. The route meanders through a lot of beautiful countryside but also stops at places such as Newcastle, York, Doncaster and Peterborough so we get to see how the networks perform in different areas.

Testing is straightforward. Each member of the group is given a dongle and has a list of tasks. We’re sat together on the train and all tests are started and finished at the same time, each has an allotted period of time in which it can be completed to allow for the network dropping out or running slowly. We ask our volunteers to record the success or failure of each test, along with the time it took to complete and progress made in the case of a failed attempt.

The Road Trip is not a definitive study of mobile broadband across the UK. We are obviously limited to testing at the departure and destination points and the route in between, and it is not intended to be a scientifically accurate study. Our aim is to see how mobile internet performs on the move in the real world with tasks that replicate the kind of things the average person is likely to want to do with their device.

This is a deliberately tough experiment, too. Travelling by train means the dongles have to deal with rapidly moving through areas of varying coverage so our results will differ to the experience of using a network in a single location. This is very noticeable in the speed tests as it first checks download then moves to upload so these two figures can be very different from each other, which is why some of them might have an excellent download rate and a much lower upload speed, or vice versa.

For more about coverage in general we have a guide with resources, you can also consult RootMetrics for regularly updated nationwide data. Regardless what we or anyone else (including the providers themselves) say about the capabilities of a network, always confirm coverage for your chosen service before purchasing.

The dongles

The devices on test were:

EE 3G: Huawei E3131
EE 4G: Huawei E589
O2 3G: Alcatel X230D
O2 4G: Huawei 4G Mobile Wi-Fi
Three 3G: Huawei E3256
Three 4G: ZTE MF823
Vodafone 3G: Vodafone K4203
Vodafone 4G: Vodafone R212

Separate 3G and 4G devices were used for each network, previously the only 4G we tested was EE in 2013. An important point to note about 4G is that these devices can and will fall back to 3G in the event a 4G signal is not available. We made no special allowances for this. As we are focused on the real world performance each service was evaluated for the overall experience; until it is as widespread as 3G those using 4G devices will regularly find themselves dropped to the older standard.

EE does not sell 3G dongles but in the interests of testing its 3G for those of you still on older T-Mobile and Orange deals, and for the times when 4G isn't available, we popped a SIM into an unlocked 3G Huawei stick (a model which supports HSPA+ for improved 3G speeds).

The EE E589 and Vodafone R212 were mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, the O2 4G dongle is a USB device with Wi-Fi hotspot support, while the remaining dongles were standard USB models. 

The full results

Here are the detailed results of our testing. Not exciting reading but if you want an easy summary our awards page has the main information in graphs that are easier on the eye. 

The length of videos and music and the size of downloads is shown. The numbers in brackets indicate the allotted time for each task. An 'F' means the test failed, and if it's followed by a number that indicates how far (in minutes:seconds, percentage or MB) it got before time ran out.

As you can see many of the failed tests came close to finishing so for the average user it won't be a big deal to hang on for a little while longer as a download completes or video buffers, the higher speed of 4G definitely helps there.

  EE 3G EE 4G O2 3G O2 4G Three 3G Three 4G Voda 3G Voda 4G
Speed test (d/u Mb) [2.30] 2.03 / 0.99 3.81 / 0.18 1.5 / 1.29 F 3.02 / 1.8 7.74 / 0.83 F F
Download 24MB [12:00] 1:45 2:08 F- 16.3MB F- 4.2MB 1:32 F- 23MB F F- 2.9MB
720p video 7:13 [9:00] 8:01 F- 6:02 F- 1:37 F- 2:15 8:06 7:13 F- 0.14 F- 0:30
Speed test 1.26 / 1.45 0.44 / 0.60 0.72 / 1.36 0.34 / 0.22 2.11 / 2.29 13.21 / 1.13 F F
720p 5:22 [7:00] 5:57 5:22 F- 3:59 F- 4:20 5:56 5:22 F- 0:15 F
Dwn 230KB, up to FB [3:00] 2:00 1:27 F F 1:14 3:00 F F
Speed test 1.82 / 0.08 2.81 / 1.00 F F 1.91 / 1.47 1.55 / 1.30 F F
Download 90KB [1:00] F 0:58 F 0:50 0:12 2:37 0:30 F
Spotify 4:50 [6:00] F 4:50 5:45 F- 4:41 4:55 F- 4:15 F F
1080p 2:33 [4:00] F- 0:12 2:40 F F- 0:07 2:45 2:33 F F
Speed test 0.34 / 1.03 F F F 8.91 / 0.01 F 0.47 / 1.16 F
Speed test 0.82 / 1.2 F F F 8.91 / 0.01 F 0.47 / 1.16 F
Download 1890KB [2:00] F 0:49 F F 0:13 0:15 F F
Download 94MB [12:00] F- 0.2 5:40 F F 6:17 6:00 F F
Upload to FB [14:00] F- 5% F- 70% F F F- 75% F- 50% F F
Speed test F 0.62 / 0.25 F F 11.26 / 2.01 4.82 / 1.03 F F
360p 10:41 [13:00] F- 3:42 F- 5:35 F- 3:30 F- 2:58 10:44 10:41 F F
Download 5MB [2:00] 0:32 0:12 0:44 1:00 0:25 0:30 0:20 F
Speed test 2.75 / 1.07 3.75 / 0.62 4.27 / 1.85 F 0.95 / 0.01 1.22 / 1.35 F 6.11 / 0.44
Speed test 2.62 / 0.17 2.81 / 0.13 2.53 / 0.82 3.2 / 0.01 5.98 / 2.4 8.44 / 1.27 F F
1080p, 5:49 [7:30] 5:49 6:27 F- 1:00 F- 0:37 7:06 5:49 F F
Download 71MB [5:30] 1:22 2:50 F F 2:30 0:30 F F
360p 1:11 [2:30] 1:11 F- 1:00 F F 1:17 1:11 F F
Speed test 1.19 / 0.83 3.88 / 0.90 F F 5.13 / 0.59 5.10 / 0.73 F F
Spotify 3:32 [5:00] 3:57 4:03 F F F 3:42 F F
HD vid 5:27 [8:00] F- 4:27 F- 2:30 F F 7:49 6:15 F- 0:04 F
Download 16MB [6:00] 0:52 4:23 F F 1:08 2:01 F F
5m HD iPlayer [7:30] F- 3:26 F- 4:53 F F 5- 4:49 5:00 F F
Speed test 7.64 / 1.3 1.31 / 1.56 F F 3.78 / 1.73 2.73 / 2.16 F F
Speed test 2.28 / 1.21 5.47 / 0.11 F F 15.41 / 3.46 19.53 / 2.33 F 0.79 / 0.05
Dwn 2MB, up to FB [2:30] 2:21 2:24 F F 0:50 2:15 F F
Download 6MB [5:00] 1:56 3:08 F F 0:23 0:25 F 0:30
Speed test 2.91 / 0.38 2.86 / 0.06 F F 1.33 / 1.6 7.29 / 0.34 F 0.7 / 2.11
720p 4:08 [6:00] 5:48 4:53 F F 5:45 4:08 F F
Speed test F 2.98 / 0.24 F F 1.28 / 2.12 4.13 / 2.03 F 7.56 / 2.75
Speed test 2.74 / 1.29 2.9 / 1.5 2.79 / 1.61 4.14 / 1.27 3.64 / 0.01 5.34 / 2.89 1.95 / 0.16 7.92 / 7.23
Speed test F 12.34 / 0.21 F 11.83 / 0.24 1.57 / 1.01 5.52 / 1.74 F 0.72 / 0.16
Speed test F 4.78 / 1.05 2.28 / 1.3 2.72 / 1.40 0.67 / 1.89 1.9 / 1.28 F 1.07 / 0.39
Speed test 5.7 / 0.89 9.15 / 0.95 0.10 / 0.42 2.37 / 1.50 F 7.08 / 1.41 F 1.08 / 0.34

Comments

Be the first to comment

Please describe your emotions in making this comment: