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How fast is mobile broadband? A guide to 3G, 4G, and 5G broadband speeds

Broadband speedo

A critical factor in the buying decision of many home broadband customers is speed. And mobile internet is no different, nobody wants to be growing old waiting for a website to load on their phone.

But how fast is mobile broadband? While home broadband is advertised with clear average speeds, mobile internet is not always as transparent, and often the numbers you do find aren't realistic in practice. 

In this guide, we'll explain what kind of speeds you can expect to get from mobile internet.

Mobile broadband speed: the key points

  • Independent studies show UK mobile broadband has an average download speed of 27Mb.
  • 5G has an average download speed of 105Mb.
  • Mobile broadband is heavily reliant on a strong signal, so you must check coverage before buying.

How fast is mobile broadband?

Late in 2012, EE launched the UK's first 4G mobile broadband service, with the rest following in autumn 2013. More recently, we've seen the launch of next-generation 5G services. Both 4G and 5G deliver a significantly quicker speed than the older 3G networks.

And what kind of performance can you expect from these networks? A good source of information is OpenSignal, which uses real-world data and produces regular reports.

Here are its average 5G download and upload speeds from September 2021:

Overall average
5G average download speed 131.9Mb 110.9Mb 103.9Mb 73.3Mb 105Mb
5G average upload speed 13.8Mb 9.3Mb 11.6Mb 12.3Mb 11.8Mb

OpenSignal also has a mobile network experience report, which provides average mobile internet speeds for each network regardless of the technology used. This is a more realistic picture of what you can expect day-to-day as you move between 3G, 4G, and 5G signals.

Overall average
Average download speed 44Mb 17.1Mb 25.2Mb 21.6Mb 27Mb
Average upload speed 13.8Mb 9.3Mb 11.6Mb 12.3Mb 11.6Mb

If you want to check your mobile broadband speed, you can do so with our broadband speed test tool.

What are upload and download speeds?

The download speed is the rate at which data is transferred to your device from a mobile internet service provider (ISP).

That data could be anything from browsing a web page to downloading an MP3 track or streaming music or television via the iPlayer.

In contrast, upload speed is the rate at which data from your device can be sent to the internet. Examples of uploads include posting content such as holiday pics to Facebook or adding videos to YouTube.

For most of us, especially when it comes to mobile broadband speed, download is the most important figure. But while upload speeds often fall into the background as far as advertising is concerned, they can be crucial to people who do a lot of uploading — such as those working remotely from home.

What affects mobile broadband speeds?

All manner of things can affect the mobile broadband speed received by a customer, including network coverage in the area, the amount of network traffic at any given time, weather conditions, whether you're on the move or static, and interference from other devices. 

But network coverage is the biggest factor. However tempting an offer a mobile broadband provider puts in front of you, it's worthless if it has weak or no coverage in the area that you'll be using it.

You can check mobile coverage right now by clicking the network logos:

Is mobile broadband fast enough for me?

Mobile broadband can be a little misunderstood, and many people think it will be as fast as their fixed-line home connection.

That may be true when you're in a spot with a strong 4G or 5G signal, but often the average user will find it delivers slower and less consistent speed than a fixed-line.

However, mobile broadband is still a fantastic product once you realise its limitations, and can be invaluable. While serious gamers and data-hungry businesses won't be cancelling their fixed-line broadband deals in a hurry, an average 4G broadband speed will be more than enough for many online tasks. 

In fact, speeds of a few megabits per second should be sufficient for browsing the web, checking email, downloading a few songs, and even watching the odd bit of streaming TV. So, if you can handle the occasional drop in service and aren't always in a massive hurry for your data, mobile broadband could be a good choice for you.

Can mobile broadband be used for online gaming?

It is possible to use mobile broadband for gaming. Online gaming relies on good 'ping' or 'response' times, and a mobile connection is capable of providing this, so long as you have a strong signal. 

However, you may also want to take a look at our guide to mobile broadband usage. Gaming can be a data-intensive hobby, especially as it now involves downloading the game itself, as well as huge patches. In this type of scenario, you need to be very careful not to go over your data limit, as you may incur charges.

Unlike fixed-line broadband, where unlimited deals are cheap and readily available, there are fewer unlimited mobile broadband services.

Chris Marling

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Chris Marling

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