Back in July, the BBC began a survey to assess the state of 3G mobile broadband coverage in the UK. That survey is now complete and the results are now in.
The survey used a free app for Android smartphones that recorded the 3G and/or 2G signal strength in a particular area and send the data back to the BBC.
Some 44,600 downloaded the app to take part in the survey, and the results spanned the whole of the UK from the Shetland Islands to the Scilly Isles.
Since it was based on user-supplied ‘crowd sourced’ data, the thinking was that the survey would paint a more accurate picture of 3G coverage across the country than mobile broadband providers’ own maps, or the somewhat selective coverage survey recently performed by Ofcom.
Unfortunately, the BBC survey only measured signal strength and not the quality of 3G internet services — something that can be affected by anything from the time of day to the number of users.
Since coverage data was reported using the same 3G network it was testing, it’s also unclear whether the survey’s ‘dead’ areas show places where no testing was performed (as the BBC claims), or places where there is not 2G/3G signal at all.
The survey results are also skewed by the number of people using a particular network. Three, for example, is reckoned to have the largest 3G network in the UK, but only 14% of the survey’s data came from this network. (Three, incidentally, is also giving away 3G mobile broadband dongles as part of a drive to get more rural communities online.)
The BBC has yet to publish a detailed analysis of the survey results, but it has created an online map to show 3G mobile broadband coverage from the five UK operators.
The map can be viewed by dragging and zooming, or by typing in a postcode to see the coverage information for a particular place.
It’s important to note, however, that the map doesn’t show coverage per se, but rather whether or not the survey respondent(s) in any particular place spend more time on the 2G or 3G mobile phone network
Although its far from a completely scientific assessment of 3G mobile broadband in the UK, UK operators have welcomed the survey, although most see it as more a starting point for future surveys rather than definitive assessment.