We wanted to find out which mobile network offered the best mobile broadband connectivity. We got mobile broadband dongles from six networks - EE, O2, Three, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone, as well as two third-party operators that use Three's network: Samba and Globalgig. See all Broadband tips.
To find out which was the best for broadband speed, coverage, streaming video and downloading files we devised a series of exhaustive tests. Over the course of two days we took the train from London to Edinburgh, simultaneously testing the eight connnections as we travelled along on a series of time-limited challenges including speed tests, videos to watch, and files to up and download. We then combined the results so we can say with confidence which networks are best, taking all locations into consideration and replicating real-world use. (Check out the Best Mobile Broadband Deals.) You can read Broadband Genie's take on this with their best mobile broadband winners and best mobile broadband analysis pieces.
Fastest mobile network
According to our tests EE is the fastest mobile network, with average download speeds in our tests of 3.43Mbps, and average upload speeds of 1.79Mbps. EE completed 11 of the 13 speed tests carried out, too. This may not sound all that impressive, but when you consider that the tests took place on a fast-moving train all over the country it is a great result. EE's best simultaneous figures were 7.11Mbps down and 8.11Mbps up.
A respectable second was Three, which completed 12 of the 13 speed tests with average figures of 1.87Mbps down and 0.94Mbps up.
The total average for all eight networks was 1.24-meg down, and 0.72 up. Not great, but usable, and impressive under the circumstances. Mobile broadband has come a long way.
Best mobile network for video
EE again performed well, showing at least some of the 11 videos we streamed, and all of five of them in the time allowed. The others that showed some of all videos were Three, T-Mobile, and Globalgig. Three network managed to show four of the 11 videos in full, and more than half of two others. Globalgig showed five videos in their entirety and more than half of a further two. T-Mobile enjoyed some of its stablemate EE's reflective glory, showing the full span of four videos and more than half of another one. But EE again came out on top.
Best mobile network for downloads and uploads
In this test Three was the best, managing to down- or upload 10 out of the 11 files in our tests. Indeed, Three only just missed out on a perfect score as the 11th file was nearly half way to being downloaded when the time was up. EE performed well, too, managing a healthy nine out of 11. In this is narrowly pipped its stablemate T-Mobile with eight downloads, and the Three-running Globalgig with seven.
Overall then it is a close-run thing between Three and EE for the title of best mobile broadband network. Three completed more tests and in those tests was the better at downloads and uploads. But EE topped the charts for video and speed tests, and its speed test results in particular left the rest of the field trailing a long way behind.