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EE still has fastest, fattest 4G pipe in London's M25 ring

RootMetrics unfurls crowd-sourced 4G coverage map

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

RootMetrics has compiled a map of 4G deployments in London which includes a whopping 11,000 crowd-sourced data points and concludes that within the M25*, EE still has the fastest, and broadest, network in town.

That shouldn't be very surprising as EE started a year earlier than its competitors, utilising the excess of radio spectrum it inherited from Orange and T-Mobile. But despite having to squeeze 4G into newly acquired bands at 800MHz and 2.6GHz, O2 and Vodafone are catching up fast – with the real loser being the largely redundant Wi-Fi networks.

RootMetrics gathers data from volunteers who install the company's mobile monitoring software on their devices. That software reports back connection speeds to RootMetrics. This data is used to build up an international coverage map. RootMetrics argues this map is more accurate, and less biased, than operators' own coverage maps.

4G is quite new, but RootMetrics already has 11,000 reports from within the M25, making the company confident enough to publish some numbers.

Those numbers – provided direct to El Reg by RootMetrics – show EE is still on top, averaging 22.7Mb/sec download speeds, compared to 16.3Mb/sec for O2 and 16.2Mb/sec for Vodafone. That's across both 4G and 3G technologies, so coverage plays an important role as more of EE's reports will be coming over its 4G network.

Exclude the 3G numbers and EE still tops the chart, peaking at 79.1Mb/sec and averaging 29.6Mb/sec. O2 and Vodafone peak at 65.8Mb/sec and 57.7Mb/sec respectively, with averages of 23.3Mb/sec and 20.8Mb/sec.

But to most users the difference between 29.6Mb/sec and 20.8Mb/sec means nothing. In fact, the usable difference between 20.8Mb/sec and 79.1Mb/sec isn't a big deal unless one is torrenting from the bus. Mobile handsets can only process a certain amount of incoming data so increasing the size of the pipe just moves the bottleneck into one's hand.

A couple of high-definition video streams is enough for any mobile user, and consistency quickly becomes more important than speed. We expect a mobile phone to be able to make and receive voice calls all the time; we need to meet that same expectation for high-speed data before we can start to fill that 79.9Mb/sec peak.

These speeds also render Wi-Fi as a slower alternative, viable only because it remains cheaper than cellular connectivity. For a fast connection 4G is clearly superior, if more expensive. Operators could, therefore, wipe out Wi-Fi just by cutting the price of 4G, but with the EU determined to push the cost of data up to US levels (about twice what Europeans pay) Wi-Fi probably still has life left in it.

* Aka London's ring road, motorway which encircles the city.

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