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

Broadband speedo

When you're looking for a home broadband deal, chances are you'll be drawn in by the speed. Mobile broadband is no different.

But how fast is it? While home broadband is advertised with clear average speeds, how long are you going to be waiting for a website to load if you're on a 4G or 5G connection?

Let's take a closer look...

Mobile broadband speed: the key points

  • Independent studies show UK mobile broadband has an average download speed of 32Mb.
  • In 2023, 5G has an average download speed of 133.9Mb.
  • 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 April 2023:

Average 5G download and upload speeds - April 2023
Overall average
5G average download speed 122.3Mb 75Mb 237.7Mb 100.6Mb 133.9Mb
5G average upload speed 16.9Mb 9.8Mb 17.3Mb 14.9Mb 14.72Mb

OpenSignal's mobile network experience report also 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.

Average UK mobile broadband upload and download speeds - April 2023
Overall average
Average download speed 47.7Mb 19.3Mb 35.4Mb 25.9Mb 32.07Mb
Average upload speed 9.8Mb 5.1Mb 6.2Mb 8.2Mb 7.3Mb

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?

Download Speed

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 Netflix.

Upload Speed

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.

You can read our full guide to upload speeds for more information.

What affects mobile broadband speeds?

Lots of things can affect the mobile broadband you receive. This can include:

  • Network coverage in the area
  • Amount of network traffic at any given time
  • Weather conditions
  • Whether you're on the move, or static
  • 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 for each provider using these links:

Is mobile broadband fast enough for me?

Mobile broadband can be a little misunderstood. 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 you'll find it delivers slower and less consistent speed than a fixed-line.

Mobile broadband is still a fantastic product once you realise its limitations. 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.

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's 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. If you're downloading games over mobile broadband, be careful not to go over your data limit - there could be expensive consequences.

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

Meet the author:
Chris Marling

Chris Marling is a journalist with extensive experience in the technology industry. He has worked on newspapers, magazines and websites as a writer, sub-editor and editor (both in print and online).

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