Cellular Broadband in the UK

For the last couple of months I have been using a cellular broadband system instead of a standard ADSL line and I’ve got to say that I think describing as broadband is probably stretching the truth a little.

I’ve been using a Huawei E220 on both the Three and Vodafone networks and the biggest problem I’ve seen is signal strength. I’m currently in a village with around 5,000 residents which is three miles from the Maidstone (the county town of Kent which has around 80,000 residents), so I’m not exactly in the sticks.

I’ve located the Threes' local UMTS transmitter and it’s around 500 meters from me, yet the connection rarely stays above 120Kb/s, which, when you compare that to the slowest ADSL speeds (around 512Kb/s) looks not so great, and if you compare it to the average ADSL speed in the UK (around 2000Kb/s), it’s looking distinctly poor.

The second problem is high latency (or lag as it’s sometimes called). Measuring latency is measuring how long data takes to get from one place to another on the Internet. With ADSL connections the latency between your house and your ISPs router can vary between 10 and 60 milliseconds, with the cellular “broadband” connection it’s around ten times this, which rules it out for on-line gaming and voice over IP telephone calls.

I’ve mentioned the figures for Three because they have a reasonable pricing structure and so I use it the most. Vodafone are hideously expensive and when I’ve tried to use it I’ve seen similar levels of performance.

To sum up, currently cellular broadband isn’t really broadband at all. It’s sometimes not even as good as a fast dial up connection (due to the latency issues), but if you’re stuck without a BT phone line, then it’s better than nothing.