On the streets of Stockholm with LTE

A test of TeliaSonera's LTE (Long Term Evolution) network and its new multimode modem shows the next-generation mobile technology at its best -- delivering speeds at up 59.1M bps (bits per second) -- when used at 2.6GHz. But it also reveals how the technology sometimes struggles when used indoors.

The speeds that LTE, and other mobile broadband technologies, can offer users depend on a number of factors, starting with what frequency the operator uses and the amount of spectrum it has managed to get its hands on.

TeliaSonera's LTE network uses two times 20MHz -- one channel for download traffic and on for upload traffic, each at 20MHz -- whereas Verizon Wireless plans to use only half that amount and will therefore only be able to offer half the capacity, at least on paper. However, Verizon will use the 700MHz band, compared to TeliaSonera's 2.6GHz, and that gives Verizon an edge when it comes to indoor capacity. The best alternative for an operator would be to use both a low and a high frequency band, which is what some German operators have picked up.

On Friday, equipped with a Sony Vaio Z laptop and Samsung's multimode GT-B3730 modem, I took to the streets of Stockholm's city center. Under optimum conditions, the LTE network should offer download speeds at up to 80M bps, according to TeliaSonera's website.

Using broadband-measuring site Bredbandskollen (The Broadband Check), I measured download and upload speeds at over a dozen places.

It started somewhat disappointingly, at IDG Sweden's office I only got 9.6M bps. But that would prove to be the slowest LTE speed the network would deliver. At the first outdoor stop, the patio of a restaurant located near the office, the download capacity increased to a stunning 59.1M bps. At two other places the speed exceeded 50M bps, at one of them I downloaded a 407MB file in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The overall feeling when surfing the Web was very similar to my fiber connection at home, which tops out at between 90M bps and 100M bps.

However, download speeds at over 50M bps was not the norm, and the average LTE download speed ended up at 33.4M bps, which is still pretty impressive.

The fastest LTE upload speed was 18.2M bps, and the average upload speed was 12.7M bps.

On three occasions -- in an underground subway station, when travelling on the subway, and in an indoor mall -- the modem was unable to connect to the LTE network. Instead, the modem connected to the Web using HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access), and delivered download speeds between 6M bps and 8.5M bps.

The tests show that TeliaSonera's network struggles when connecting users located indoors. But that is not always the case: the second fastest speed, 57.2M bps, was recorded at an indoor location. So using LTE at 2.6GHz doesn't automatically mean slow indoor speeds.

However, if the HSPA speeds are added to the average download and upload results, they drop to 27.8M bps and 10.4M bps, respectively.

Besides more bandwidth, LTE also offers improved latency, which makes the connection feel snappier than existing 3G-based mobile broadband services.

One thing that remains to be seen is how the speeds will change as more users start to connect the network. Radio is a shared medium, and greater numbers of users should impact speeds negatively. TeliaSonera isn't offering much detail on how its LTE push has gone so far, only saying that it has "thousands of subscribers" on its Swedish network, a spokeswoman said at the end of June.

Until the end of the year, TeliaSonera's LTE subscription costs 359 Swedish kronor (US$48) per month for up to 30GB of data. After that it will cost 599 Swedish kronor. A regular 3G subscription, with a 20GB data cap, costs 99 Swedish kronor until the end of the year. It normally costs 319 Swedish kronor, according to TeliaSonera's website.

Results of "on the street" test:

Download speeds

Highest speed (4G): 59.1M bps

Lowest speed (4G): 9.6M bps

Lowest speed (3G): 6.0M bps

Average speed (4G): 33.4M bps

Average speed (3G and 4G): 27.8M bps

Upload speeds

Highest speed (4G): 18.2M bps

Lowest speed (4G): 4.9M bps

Lowest speed (3G): 1.2M bps

Average speed (4G): 12.7M bps

Average speed (3G and 4G): 10.4M bps

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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