Mobile broadband failing to meet unrealistic promises

UK broadband comparison website Broadband Genie published the results of its latest survey into mobile broadband services, finding that in most cases the "broadband" part of this phrase is quite incorrect. According to its research, two-thirds of users are experiencing speeds of less than 1Mbps, which is less than 15% of the peak speeds claimed by the most optimistic operator. Fewer than 1% of the 3,600 tests saw a speed of more than 3Mbps, compared with 39% which were below 0.5Mbps.

The findings are not new; similar surveys are published regularly which highlight the discrepancies between the marketing promises of operators, and the real-world speeds achieved by users. With bodies such as the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) claiming that "7.2Mbps had become the new baseline for mobile broadband globally" during 2009, it is hardly surprising that some customers are disappointed with the real-world performance achieved.

But the focus on speed misses the benefits that mobile broadband can bring, which can make life easier for travelling professionals when away from the office. The ability to seamlessly access enterprise applications and data can easily outweigh the limitations in speed, especially when taking into account the increasingly nomadic working profiles of many workers. And the ability of mobile broadband to provide connectivity rapidly to new sites before fixed-line links can be deployed is a godsend for growing companies, with mobile broadband also providing a useful back-up tool if or when fixed-line connectivity is unavailable.

According to the GSM Association, 12.3% of global workforces have access to mobile broadband, which is likely to increase by 25% by late-2009. In order for mobile broadband to flourish in this market, it makes sense for both suppliers and IT departments to play up the mobility benefits rather than overstating the broadband performance, in order to ensure that employees have a realistic view of what to expect, rather than being blinded by the peak speed numbers which are currently causing dissatisfaction in the consumer market.

Another important issue which needs to be addressed, but which is frequently overlooked, is the coverage profile of 3G networks. Remaining in the UK as an example, coverage maps often show large areas without any 3G connectivity at all, and these are often in remote areas where fixed-line broadband connectivity is also difficult to obtain - meaning that mobile broadband would be a useful tool to address a largely under-served market. But simple economics means that deploying infrastructure to address this market is not cost-effective - an issue which future mobile broadband technologies and deployments are likely to look to address.

The UK watchdog Ofcom has published maps of 3G coverage in the UK, prepared in January 2009, which are available here.
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