Mobile Broadband in Ireland – Muck

Well we all knew that right? Anyway, Blacknight’s Speed Test have been logging speed tests for a long while now and have given me some raw data for the Mobile Broadband Providers. A complete and longwinded extensive explanation and full raw data is at the end of the post with a quicker summary here.
The gist of it is that speeds on all of these networks are terrible but Three performed the worst in terms of download speed and Quality of Service. Here’s a quick chart showing the results of people who believed they were on a 3mb broadband package, clicking on the image will give a larger table with more details. All speeds are in kb/s (that’s kilobits, not kilobytes; 8kb = 1kB) So really they should be expecting to see 3000 in download but many only get 300.

Mobile Broadband Speeds Ireland

Full explanatory note from Blacknight:
I have to attach a huge caveat to this data. I can’t comfortably say that the speed data has any claim of authority because there’s no way we can currently verify that the people using Irish ISP Test gave the correct speed for the plan they’re on. The data on Quality of Service, on the other hand, has a much better case for being authoritative, and in real terms, it’s the information you’re really interested in.

First, I have to make sure you’re able to interpret the data correctly. Three files are attached.

“qos.csv” reports the Quality of Service the mobile ISPs are giving per month.
Mobile Broadband Speeds Ireland

Quality of Service (QoS) is a measurement of how reliable the connection is and varies between 0% and 100%, the former being no service and the latter being perfect service. If a service provider is providing a good service, they should be hitting an average QoS of around 90% or more. As you can see, O2 give the best QoS, giving roughly 65% QoS on average. Vodafone follow closely behind, with Three trailing quite badly, though the trend is that they’re catching up, with their competitors as the QoS their customers are getting has risen consistently since September where it was below 25%, to close to 50% now.

Quality of Service can be thought of as a measurement of how close they’re hitting the speeds they advertise. A high QoS means that they’re approaching their advertised speeds, whereas one around 50%-60% compared to the kind of intermittent reception you get on your phone when you’re going through a tunnel. By way of example, we have an 8Mb/s line in our office. I just did a test on it and managed to get just over 6Mb/s out of it and the QoS reported was 85%, which means we’re getting close to the speed we ought to be getting at 100% QoS, and it matches the speed we’re getting pretty closely.

The second and third files, “stats-by-isp-speed.csv” and “stats-by-isp-speed-month.csv” break this down by ISP and speed, and again
by month. This data isn’t really as interesting or accurate, but here’s an explanation of what it means.

The ‘Speed Given’ column reports the speed in kb/s (that’s kilobits, not kilobytes; 8kb = 1kB) that the user reported. For instance, 56 is the same as an old 56k dial-up modem, 128 is roughly the same as an ISDN line, 1024 is roughly the same as a 1Meg DSL line, and so on. ‘Download Speed’ refers to how fast a data (such as a file, page of a website, image, video, &c.) can be downloaded and is, again, given in kb/s. ‘Upload Speed’ refers to how quickly something can be sent from your computer over your connection to somewhere else, such as sending an email, submitting a form on a website, putting a photo on Flickr, and so on. This number will always be less than the download one as people tend to download more than they upload and ISPs use this heuristic to share the connection in a way that’ll give the best experience for the customer. The when an ISP advertises a connection speed, they’re usually talking about the download speed.

You’ll notice that the upload and download columns come in pairs. The first one give the average speed the speed test got, and the second gives how much this speed varies between tests (the standard deviation). An average by itself is meaningless because it tells you nothing about how spread out thenumbers that were averaged out were, or if they cluster around the average. If you have a standard deviation that’s close to zero, then the numbers averaged are all close to the average, but the closer the standard deviation is totwice the average, the closer the data is to being completely chaotic.

So lets say that two ISPs provide a 1M data package, and all both their users manage to get an average of 500k and 650k. Now, lets say that the standard deviation for ISP-A’s customers from the average speed is about 50, but the standard deviation for ISP-B’s customer’s is 400. You’d want to go with ISP-A because even though you’re not getting a slower speed, you’re getting it far more consistently than ISP-B, where it’s pretty much pot luck whether you’ll get full speed or a trickle.

Again, the QoS columns are what you really want to be concentrating on in these datasets.

38 Responses to “Mobile Broadband in Ireland – Muck”

  1. Mr T says:

    Cheers Damien. Muck is far too polite.

  2. Gavin H says:

    Thanks Damien.

    This is all the information that your friend, Mr Eamon Ryan T.D., should need to understand that 3G is not a real “broadband”solution.

    Yes, 3G could play a role for certain situations (eg mobile business, season workers, students, etc) but not as a permanent, long-term solution for rural Ireland.

  3. ajh says:

    As a 3 user the speeds look right.

  4. The question in my mind is where you can get the good 3G speeds. Can you get them in more remote areas?

  5. Michele says:

    @Antoin – would it be of interest to ask people which part of the country they are in when they do the speed test?


  6. maggie says:

    My ‘three’ connection says constant speed of 3.6 Mbps.
    I’ve had latter since December ’07.
    ‘Three’ shop in Carlow town assured me that ‘three’ would work for me in:
    1. rural-south Laois,
    2. Graiguecullen (which is just over Barrow Bridge in Carlow town) and
    3. south Tipperary.
    I have no ‘three’ signal in Graiguecullen in large new housing complex or rural south Tipp.
    At 19.99 euros per month in Laois, with no surcharges per month so far – this is good value – but no joy as yet in Tipp or Carlow.
    Prior to this, up tp 2005, I had Eircom dial-up. Eircom was expensive and utterly useless. Regtel & Comreg said ‘I understand’!!!!

  7. Ehhh… Live just outside wexford town and despite 3’s claim of/licence requirement for 3g nationwide i’m not covered, and not covered by voda either, have voda-band for use when staying over in dublin. 3g not available in castlebridge (home) on voda. 3g is a good temporary solution for occasional use or for use when travelling (like on the train) but is not a directly substitutable solution. Think kerrygold versus flora as an analogy.

  8. i don’t think voda or anybody else have to offer nationwide 3g.

    Finding out which county? Could be interesting. In a lot of cases it wouldn’t tell you much though. Most counties are diverse, they have both a medium-ish sized town or two and a rural hinterland.

    A map would be really neat but a lot of trouble!

    There are a lot of funky things with the way the mobile broadband works. For example, if there is someone using it at the edge of the cell, that will cause a reduction in speed for all users of that cell. Sounds crazy, but that’s the way the RF works.

    Really, though, checking this is a larger scale issue. As I understand it, they commission a ‘drive’ every now and again to check the state of the mobile network. Of course, they are going to be focused on the main roads. It might be possible to guess what the speeds are like from their surveys.

    I understand that at least one of the networks has backhaul issues with their network, i.e, it isn’t the ‘last mile’ that’s causing the congestion, it’s the links further back in the network.

  9. Michele says:


    We’re going to be investing in some enhancements to the speed test site, so any suggestions – no matter how crazy – are welcome.


  10. maggie says:

    I’ve just checked my ‘three’ speed in South Laois & its 293 kbps & 11% effective.

  11. Adrian says:


    How about a dancing Manatee while waiting for the results?

    (“No matter how crazy…”)

  12. Damien says:

    @Adrian What would the Manatee be wearing?

  13. Michele says:

    Why would it be dancing?

  14. Organ Donor says:

    I tested my BB through blacknight for along time and was getting incorrect readings.I tried and voila correct readings..
    Just a thought..
    dont use Blacknight anymore i’m afraid,although i do rent my domain name from them..

  15. Michele says:

    Incorrect how?

  16. Adrian says:


    A Hef jacket?

    (Kudos, Michele)

  17. James says:

    Just wondering – with the old “lies, damned lies and statistics” thing in mind, about the validity of the sample in some ways, especially in relation to 3, whose product is often offering service where there is no other alternative whatsoever… My question arises because, surely those testing their speed are often doing so because they have a problem…? So the performance may be representative of some “borderline” users, but not necessarily of the average user experience? Just that I have used the 3 Modem and found it great, whenever I tested it (albeit not on the blacknight test) the results were typically 56k upload and 700k or so download, in various locations.

  18. […] notices. They also have a code for availability/coverage. Now that will be interesting. With Mobile broadband in Ireland being muck, I wonder what the speeds advertised will be now and whether they’ll release the […]

  19. 3G is ok if your stuck, but its not practical as a broadband solution. We need the goverment to push broadband as far as possible.

  20. Paul Killoran says:

    Great blog!! Excellent resource.

    I’ve just signed up for the 3 dongle and my results are matching what you’ve posted exactly. I’m based in Galway…. so not quite the most rural of places, so you’d expect decent coverage.

    Don’t suppose you have data for Feb/March? If you put it up, that’d be really great!

    I’m going to trade in my 3 dongle for a Vodafone one. I think its worth the extra money.

  21. Mary says:

    In rural Co Kilkenny. I have Vodafone modem, it was great for first few months, but serious deterioration in 3G signal in the past month. Support line blames more people buying the modems (!!!!). I can get very slow GPRS signal (dont ask me what the figures are) but the 3G signal is cat. Its so frustrating cos I have no other options for broadband.

  22. […] seems I’m not alone.  How do the Irish mobile firms cope?  There’s quite a cluster in Cork. var […]

  23. Bill Winters says:

    I live in Earlswood, Ashtown. Smart wired the development for broadband and because they own the wiring it appears that they have the monopoly and we can’t get eircom, NTL or anybody else. So much for all the complaining that companies like Smart did about eircom’s local loop monopoly!

    At any rate, Smart was a disaster for us -awful service, awful customer support- and we got rid of our Smart box as a result. We are now using 3 for broadband and the download speeds appear to be close to dial-up speeds most of the time supporting the results of this survey.

    What I can’t understand is why companies like 3 can’t be made by ComReg to charge based on the speeds provided e.g. if a customer is paying for a 3.6Mps download speed and getting a 360K download speed, then their bill should be reduced down to 10% of it’s total. This would certainly have the desired effect of making the mobile operators up their game.


  24. Jim says:

    We need proper broadband fullstop. This mickey mouse playing with people’s aspirations is just intolerable. Thing is, what can joe soap do about it – answer sod all, we are at the mercy of the companies and their only concern is profits. lets face it unless we have genuine commitment from the government to convert the exchanges then we are all just kidding ourselves , we’ll never have a decent broadband facility ever, also because now we are in recession officially, so goodbye broadband. I think it’s a big conspiracy to get everyone to move to the urban sprawls to make life easier for the multi-nationals to make money, supported by the TD’s whom never go without where ever they abode.

  25. Ofertas Adsl says:

    I have recently moved to Co Kilkenny and my Vodaphone card is hopeless. I see more speed in a snail! I have heard that 3’s coverage is a lot better? Any views on this? I am a huge fan of broadband and indeed blog about it myself but its like I am now living in the dark ages with what is effectivley a dial up equivelant connection.

  26. Marie says:

    Got the vodafone modem abot 6 months ago. delighted at first but now so slow……. At least it is a fixed charge. Better than dial-up.

    Am in North Tipperary. No hope of broadband in the near future especially with the Greens in charge. reckon us culchies will have to move to Dublin!!

  27. board seller says:

    Just in case anyone is interested i am selling a unlocked 3g modem Here
    This Allows you to test all the networks just use a pre paid sim from your phone or whatever and you can be sure to get the best service in your area no contract free to do as you please dont like a provider switch simply as that

  28. […] I know that Damien and Michele have worked extensively in looking at the area of mobile broadband, arguing that it […]

  29. Ian Kenefick says:

    Just had a three (Ireland) salesman try to sell us a 3g modem. Aileen had invited the salesman into the hall so we could close the front door(it was freezing), not realising I had canceled my 3 mobile broadband contract only a week ago. I don’t know if the salesman knew this and this was some customer retention effort? Anyway, I felt obliged to interrupt his hard sell. I didn’t want to waste his time because I was’t interested thinking he’d be better off trying to make his commission elsewhere. He asked why – and I replied. I said my experiences using it were bad enough for me to cancel the subscription a week ago.

    I described it as slow and inconsistent and despite the low price of €19.99 per month – was not worth the money as it failed to provide me with a decent enough connection.

    Basic tasks took to long to complete, like checking eMail and downloading attachments quickly, like broadband should. Publishing photos to flickr and my blog was slow too and I do this quite a bit.

    The sales guy said I was “wrong”. With a sarcastic tone he said “Good luck with finding a new provider because if you think 3 is bad, they are worse!”. Elegantly put Mr. Salesman ! He went on… “3 is really great, I use it myself and you are really wrong about 3. It’s way better than Vodafone and O2”. He was enthusiastic but at the same time irritating and clearly had no interest in what he described as my “opinions”. To be fair, the other services could very well be rubbish. I can’t say as I’ve never used them before. I went with 3 because it was cheap and I have to say I didn’t have any heightened expectations about it either. I expected that it wouldn’t perform anywhere near the “up to 3.6Mbps” advertised speeds but I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was for me.

    I appreciate that a number of factors might have influenced the performance of the connection such as high contention, congestion on the network at peak times and signal strength and quality. More so now than ever, there’s no point in paying for something if it’s not working properly.

  30. patrick says:


    I had a 3 modem for 1 year and was delighted to see the back of it cos it was rubbishly slow and i was starting to pull my hair out because of it. I switched to reach broadband and it has been great for past 9 months but recently it has been getting really slow. Anyone else experiencing slow speeds with reach? I live in a small village in carlow.

  31. DENNIS says:


  32. Ciara says:

    Would be grateful for any advice from anyone who can offer it! I live in the UK and am due to spend a few weeks in Ireland (Kerry) this summer with family. Unfortunately family have no internet access so I am looking to purchase a mobile broadband dongle. I recently bought one of these here in the UK however, it is not practical to use abroad with roaming charges etc.. so am better off buying an Irish one (It will get used in future anyway) Trouble is not sure which one to go for? Any advice much appreciated!

  33. john says:

    I live off the Navan road D7( in the Ashington estate (Rise) and have tried all the major mobile broadband providers and overall the signal strength and speeds are crap. O2 |(2 years ago) was brutal with speeds of about 70kbs a lot of the time. Got rid of it just as I was being certified for a mental home. Next provider was Vodafone. Brutal service but got a bit better if you went upstairs and leaned out the window !!. Next provider was 3. Went from bad to worse. I had enless long calls to India. They always said that they would ” accelerate it ” which I thought was great, However they meant that they would move my complaint – quickly – to another department !!. Finally I tried ( Dec 09 ) Eircom( Meteor ) which has the best local signal and speed -for my address-. I can get between 1-1.5 meg. Mornings are best. so set your alarm early !! Honest. I cant believe it. You- Tube at last and good quality SKYPE. All of the above modems worked much better in the city centre for me. But the most frustrating thing was when you visited the provider shops and they showed you these amazing coverage maps , with speeds of not just 3.6 Meg, no they were showing speeds of 7.2 Meg. !! wow. This is such a crazy country. PS. O2 have just sent me an email to say that they have just put on line a new arial at Ashtown gate and this should provide an improved 3g servise for the area. its up to you.

  34. Paul says:

    Hi All,

    We have a unit that will make your mobile broadband sing! Which ever provider you ar with.

    It will find the a mast with the best data signal lock on and give real service based on sim package purchased. It is a fixed unit for home and office and is also wifi inabled.

    e-mail me for more information


  35. John says:

    Hi Paul, tell us more about this unit and what it costs

  36. paul says:

    Hi John,

    The unit is called WiBe is costs around 300.00 euro plus Vat.

    It will be available from the 01 April 2010 and will it sit on any 3G
    Insert your data sim and off you go. I will keep you posted we are just
    finished testing and trials. First production available very soon. The data
    sheet attached is a bit dated the new one will be out next week.



  37. Helen says:

    Hi Everyone
    I have read all the comments with interest. I am coming to Mayo Abbey for a month in the summer with my family and I would be interested if you could give me some advice on which broadband dongle to get to use with my laptop both whilst staying in the house with the family and also whilst touring around in our motorhome. I don’t have one in England so I.m a novice with these things but I do have virgin broadband 10gb so it pretty fast to work normally so I know whatever I get will be slower.
    Thanks Helen

  38. Mick says:

    ive been with Vodafone for a year now then all of a sudden i cant stream moives anymore tv series etc i just talked to BORAT from dat support and he gave me some cock & bull story about there being loads of dat inb the area and it would be fixed by 12 midnight 2morro night i wait with baited breathe :):):) i have to wait till 10 o clock to hit the library so i can watch Game of Thrones last episode which means i have bring my laptop with and the stick what a pain in the BOLLOX and true blood starts back next week.Mick kerry