Buying a phone this Xmas?

If you’re considering buying a phone on contract this Christmas – whether for yourself or as a gift – the advice for people living in Birmingham and parts of the West Midlands is to test before you invest.

Professional, independent testing company RootMetrics ran 15,756 tests using regular, over-the-counter smartphones and found significant differences in mobile internet speeds across Birmingham and large parts of the West Midlands. In the upload test – for example, sending a picture to Facebook – there was 40% difference between the slowest and faster networks.

“The message is clear, test before you invest,” explains RootMetrics CEO and President Bill Moore. “If you’re buying the latest smart phone or tablet, the chances are you’ll be locked into a long-term data contract. The last thing you want to find out when you get the device home or give it as a gift is that the mobile network you chose performs poorly in your area. Across major cities and towns in the UK, our tests have consistently shown that performance can significantly alter just twenty miles down the road, on the same network.”

On average, across all of the areas covered – Birmingham, Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell, Solihull, Tamworth, and Lichfield – Three scored the highest, being strong on call performance and texts and critically standing apart on mobile internet. With most smartphones being used as much for the Internet as for making calls, Three’s average download speed of 2.3 Mbps and average upload speed of 1.4 Mbps were the fastest out of all the mobile networks tested. It also proved to be widely available with a 97.5% success rate on download tests (96.1% of upload).

Vodafone however fared less well. While its average download speed of 1.9 Mbps was on a par with T-Mobile and Orange, it achieved a successful download connection rate of just 79.1%. Similarly, its upload data speed was just 0.8 Mbps – meaning that uploading the same photo to Facebook on Vodafone would theoretically take approximately 40% longer.

Focusing specifically on the city of Birmingham, several mobile networks tied for the best service in the city. Three recorded the fastest average download speed (2.6 Mbps), but its results were within the margin of error with the results from O2, Orange and Vodafone. T-Mobile was the slowest, with download speeds of 2.1 Mbps, 19% lower than the leaders.

For upload speeds, Three was the outright winner with speeds of 1.5 Mbps although T-Mobile, Orange and O2 weren’t far behind with tied speeds between 1.2 and 1.3 Mbps. Vodafone was again the slowest at 1.0 Mbps, meaning it would take 33% longer to upload the same photo to Facebook compared with Three.

The ability to connect to the network was also strong overall, with Three and O2 both offering download and upload success rates of 97.0% or higher. At the other end of the spectrum, just 83.3% of download data connections were successful on Vodafone.

Adds Moore: “Our testers covered more than five hundred and eighty miles to deliver a highly accurate picture of mobile network performance in the area. While call and text performance is too close to call, Three is a clear winner on mobile internet performance and that makes the network our overall winner.”

Outside the city, individual networks varied in terms of service in different places. In Lichfield, for instance, O2 was consistently fastest with average download speeds of 3.2 Mbps. This was more than twice as fast as Orange, Three and T-Mobile, which offered average download speeds between 1.2 and 1.4 Mbps. Vodafone was again the slowest with speeds of just 0.3 Mbps.

However, in Tamworth, Vodafone offered average download speeds of 2.1 Mbps, which was on a par with the other operators.

The single fastest single test came not in Birmingham city centre but on a residential part of Bentley Mill Way in Walsall near the M6, where T-Mobile clocked a single test at 12.9 Mbps. The full Birmingham and West Midlands RootScore report is available to download from the RootMetrics website where you can also review the methodology behind the tests.

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