4G LTE experiences and faster everything

4G mobile phones

4G – the marketing term that covers the next-generation cellular standards LTE, HSPA+ and WiMAX – is rolling out worldwide and LTE is currently available in more than 60 countries.

It’s generally seen that LTE is the fastest 4G service and is the one that is the subject of a just-published report by Open Signal, a UK-based network testing company. The report examines the state of LTE around the world and contains some useful trend metrics for the lay reader:

  • 62 countries already have at least one LTE network.
  • LTE will be present in a projected 83 countries within the next two years, which will drive the production of lower-end LTE-compatible smartphones.
  • LTE’s dramatic improvement in speed and latency from 3G shows that it has the potential to be as transformative an advancement as the evolution from 2G to 3G was – especially true in countries that do not have established fixed line internet infrastructure, meaning that broadband internet can be made widely available through cellular connections.
  • The arrival of cheap handsets that are able to make use of LTE will help expedite mass adoption, leading to the potential for dramatically increased broadband penetration in developing countries.

One really interesting technical point of the many that Open Signal makes is regarding 4G network speed compared to other connection types. All mobile operators talk about how fast their 4G is compared to 3G and even compared to wifi.

It helps to see what that means:

LTE speed vs others

These are averages, according to Open Signal, across all the countries they reviewed. But the numbers do appear to support the high 4G (LTE) speed claims of the mobile operators.

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of “faster everything” on a mobile device, a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE courtesy of mobile operator EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in. The SIII connects me to EE’s LTE network in the UK. It’s the only 4G network in this country at the moment.

EE’s network is fast: my experience behind the phrase “faster everything” is one that is very noticeable when compared to 3G, when you do the kinds of things you, well, do on a modern mobile device: take and post Instagram photos, tweet, like something (or someone) on Facebook, +1 on Google, add a comment to a discussion on LinkedIn, watch a video, do your email, etc.

I’m convinced that device hardware capabilities are a big part of that overall “faster everything” perception: LTE-optimized hardware (and software) and a speedy network, the two go hand in hand.

So I was a bit surprised when I saw Open Signal’s chart that shows the speeds you can expect in the top nine countries they reviewed – and the UK wasn’t one of them:

How speeds compare

Then I spotted that they’re measuring download speed rather than overall speed. That’s something that still puzzles me in my “faster everything” experiences.

What I typically get on an LTE network connection is a pretty slow (comparatively) download speed, and a faster upload speed according to speed tests I’ve run with the mobile testing app from Speedtest.com.

Faster upload speeds

Actually, you can see that my LTE download speeds aren’t that bad – the first one in the list, for instance, is better than speeds shown for seven of the nine countries in Open Signal’s chart.

I realize these are just a couple of tests and may not reflect a constant in any way concerning network speeds up or down. Yet it seems to go against what research like Open Signal’s talks about. And I never see any network operators talking about upload speed – it’s always about download speed.

Even cable broadband companies like Virgin Media only talk about download speeds (although with their pathetic less-than-5mbps upload speed, I’m not surprised)

Still, I suppose I shouldn’t be concerned about being puzzled when I’m able to just get things done on EE’s 4G LTE when out and about in London, much faster than I can with 3G. It’s not as if upload speed is a factor mentioned in the pricing element of service; neither is it highlighted in any operator’s marketing messaging (those might become more important, though, once 4G LTE competition heats up in the UK later this year).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep calm and carry on!

(Via GigaOm)

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.