I was scanning the mobile-tech news and saw a story on a performance shootout between the LTE implementations from Verizon and AT&T; I skipped by the link and can’t find it now, but that’s OK because I’m here to debunk it.

The study found that A’s LTE went to 45M/sec whereas V’s was only 35, or maybe the other way around, and maybe the numbers aren’t quite right.

It Doesn’t Matter · As the user of a 50M/sec home network via my local cable company, I have found these things to be true:

  1. There are very few sources of interesting data on the Web that can reach double-digit MB/second.

  2. The single exception is BitTorrent, which for something that’s reasonably popular with lots of trackers, can achieve simply spine-chilling, mind-boggling performance on a 50M cable hookup.

  3. The fast wire is also handy when several people in the household want to do Skype and gaming and YouTubing at the same time, without colliding.

I don’t think people really want to run BitTorrent on their phones, that much, and I observe that most mobile devices, most times, are only being used by one person. I think that, for all practical purposes, somewhere in the single-digit MB/second range is “fast enough”.

Also: The thought of trying to write an Android or iOS app on realistic hardware that could actually soak up data at those rates and, you know, do something with it, makes my blood run cold.

Now, maybe the networks want everyone to unplug their home and office wiring, and do all their fun and games and work and multimedia via 4G? But I don’t think so, just yet.

What I Want · I want wireless data and I want it to be fast enough; but just as important, I want it to be reliably there, with a low consistent ping time, wherever I am. Also, I want it unfiltered and unchoked and network-neutral. Can we please benchmark those things instead?


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: David Ascher (Sep 22 2011, at 14:49)

Good points. I do think that tablets are going to change the game. It's going to become quite popular to want to do real-time HD streaming on devices that are connected by cell signals. Videoconferencing (requiring significant uplink bandwidth) will also be a significant challenge on today's networks.


From: Jarek Piórkowski (Sep 22 2011, at 15:27)

Loosen the bandwidth limitations and that's a pretty good alternative to a wired connection. By the time service is available over a reasonable area, it might just be feasible.


From: Joe Pallas (Sep 22 2011, at 15:29)

Real-time mobile medical imaging.


From: Andrew (Sep 22 2011, at 16:15)

One thing to remember is that bandwidth in a cell is shared between all users of that cell. Those numbers were undoubtedly obtained by testing on an essentially unloaded network. LTE is fully capable of simultaneously transmitting/receiving to multiple UEs each of who get a portion of that bandwidth (think frequency division multiplexing not time division). While those top line speeds don't mean much to you as an individual user you should still see an improvement in your overall experience from the capacity improvements.

Part of the latency jitter seen in 3G networks comes from the deep buffers required to deal with demand peaks caused by the bursty nature of mobile data. Additional over the air capacity will help here. LTE also moves the processing of layer 2 ack/nacks to the actual cell site which will also help with latency jitter as a request for a retransmission can be handled locally instead of further back in the network.


From: Noel (Sep 22 2011, at 16:22)

You've missed the single biggest issue with lte today: caps. If I need the speed I need capacity. Why sell me on streaming and charge me up the wazzoo to actually use the service? Oh wait ... that actually is their goal ... :-(


From: David Magda (Sep 22 2011, at 16:34)

I generally agree, but I think there are good reasons to be able to hit 50Mb/s.

First off, these 4G networks are probably mostly empty now as there aren't a lot of devices available. Once they start filling up, everyone is going to get a cut of that 50 Mb/s, and each person's rate will be lower as time goes on.

That 50 Mb/s (42 Mb/s actually) is also the peak that was reached; the average was around 24 Mb/s or so for AT&T. Verizon's peak was 24 Mb/s, with an average of 17 Mb/s.

Another thing is that while you probably won't need 20+ Mb/s all that the time, it's handy for your phone to be able to "burst" when needed. Polling e-mail or grabbing a quick search result doesn't need a lot bandwidth. However, if you check your inbox and your IMAP client notices that there's a big attachment, it'd be cool if it could tell the system / cell network "hey, I've only been using 1.5 MHz of spectrum, but need 20 MHz for the next little while". This way most of the time your device plays nice and tries to be efficient with network resources (and its own battery life), but being able to grab a large swath temporary is nice as well.

It'd also be handy if phones will be smart enough to stay on 2G for polling mail and simple voice calls, 3G for downloading e-mail messages, and only use 4G for perhaps browsing or larger attachments. This way battery life and network bandwidth is conserved, but people still get good performance. Don't know enough about the GSM/CDMA specs to know if this is possible.

Also, these numbers are probably for standing fairly still. If you're (a passenger!) in a car, a tram/streetcar, or a train then you start losing bandwidth as speed increases (LTE is designed to handle "handset speeds" of up to 350 km/h). A larger number when still means a potentially larger number when moving.


From: Pierre Phaneuf (Sep 22 2011, at 17:01)

For me, what I desire most for mobile Internet is low latency. It drives me absolutely bonkers that there isn't more pipelining, or when APIs are designed in a way that prevent it, even if you go the extra mile of implementing it (not certain, but I believe the HTTP client in the Android libraries is not pipelined by default)...


From: miguel (Sep 22 2011, at 18:52)

This article is your "640kb ought to be enough for anybody".


From: Dewald Reynecke (Sep 23 2011, at 00:58)

Since we have very old and low-tech fixed line infrastructure here in South Africa we welcome advances in mobile networks that can easily be rolled out. As a normal consumer the 21Mbps (peak) speeds we currently get on mobile is the fastest available. ADSL is lagging behind with 10Mbps now in limited roll out.

So, yes, in first world countries you might not see the point, but in developing nations mobile broadband is possibly our only viable future.


From: James Moore (Sep 23 2011, at 11:11)

"I don’t think people really want to run BitTorrent on their phones"

I can think of one reason to use something like bittorrent - simultaneous media. If you're with a friend, and she says "check this out" - a new app, a video file, something big - if pull out your phone and you can get it from her, and the other three people you're having dinner with can too, that seems really useful. Maybe it could be smart enough to turn on an on-demand local adhoc wifi connection instead of using carrier data, too.


From: Brandt (Sep 23 2011, at 11:53)

There are plenty of iOS apps that exceed 100MB, many even that exceed 1GB, such as games and navigation apps. I'd like to be able to buy and download these things while on the road, but instead I need to remember to do them at home, because it's only reasonable to download them over wifi attached to cable. Just as Apple is cutting the tether to the desktop computer with iOS 5, it's be nice to see the next generation of hardware cut the tether to wifi for so many essential tasks (FaceTime is another one that currently requires wifi).


From: BR (Sep 26 2011, at 02:32)

"Now, maybe the networks want everyone to unplug their home and office wiring, and do all their fun and games and work and multimedia via 4G? But I don’t think so, just yet." yes they do, anything that unties them from the telecom telephone cables. maybe not for work, there they use their own fiber cables, but for home usage, 4G will compete heavily with DSL and cable. I myself live happily atop a 7.2mbps HSPA wifi dongle. and the top speed will be expensive, with the lower speeds at cheaper prices. the problem today and tomorrow will still be the traffic caps, damn them


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