We’ve heard all kinds of claims about just how fast long-term evolution will be–some of them citing bandwidth as high as 100 Mb/s–but until now there’s been no opportunity to validate them. By getting a jump start on the rest of the industry and deploying the world’s first commercial LTE networks in Oslo and Stockholm, TeliaSonera has given the world the opportunity to see how a real, live LTE network performs. So far the results have varied considerably.
Swiss network quality management company SwissQual has been testing TeliaSonera’s network using an off-the-shelf Samsung data card and today released its results. It recorded downlink throughput speeds up to 47 Mb/s, approximately five times faster than the fastest 3G technology, evolved high-speed packet access, or HSPA+.
However, last week, management consulting firm Northstream found a much different network, never recording bandwidth wider than 12 Mb/s, which HSPA+ could deliver on really good day. Since then, Northstream has said it has done further testing and found that network performance had improved considerably. In a blog post today, Northstream said that over the weekend, its testers experienced speeds greater than 25 Mb/s on average and even saw peaks as high as 45 Mb/s.
Northstream readily admits that its testing methods aren’t exactly scientific–it bought modems and ran them through the motions on buses, in cars and at stationary points throughout the city. It’s a market research and consulting firm after all, not a network quality measurement firm like SwissQual. That company packed its own internally designed probes up to Sweden, producing a more scientific measurements. But that doesn’t mean that Northstream’s results should be discarded. It may not have performed the detailed spectral analysis that only a firm like SwissQual can conduct, but real people performing real-world tests are just as valid.
Take the case of AT&T (NYSE:T) in point. US networking test firm Root Wireless found that AT&T’s HSPA network in eight major markets beat out its three primary competitors’ EV-DO and HSPA networks in multiple objective perfromance categories, including overall capacity (though Root later discovered that in high data-use situations, such as in Las Vegas during CES, AT&T’s performance fell considerably compared to the other three). But the subjective experience of thousands of iPhone users, complaining about the poor connection speeds and lack of coverage in those same markets, have given AT&T a black eye among consumers and have done far more to influence perceptions about the quality of AT&T’s 3G network.
In Stockholm–just as in New York, Chicago or San Francisco–numerous factors go into determining how fast an individual wireless data connection will be: distance from the cellsite, number of users sharing a cell’s capacity, obstacles in the transmission path, available backhaul resources, the generation of chipset in the device, even the processing capabilities of the device itself. A wonderful mobile data experience can degrade into an awful one in a matter of moments or a matter of meters. Scientific measurements are nice, but tell that to the customer who receives 12 Mb/s for when he was told he’d get 50 Mb/s.