Speed test: How fast is 4G, really?

Speed test: How fast is 4G, really?

Summary: Telstra claims its 4G service can reach 40Mbps. Optus reckons it can download a Maroon 5 song in 4.3 seconds. But what’s happening in reality?

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There's no doubt that 4G is a magnificent leap in the speed of mobile connectivity. For many of us, it's a big step forward compared to our fixed connection. Of the 5,2587 ZDNet Broadband Speed Tests run by 4G users between February and October this year, 13 percent attained speeds of 20Mbps or more. That compares to just 1 percent of DSL tests (from 97,953 tests run by people from home).

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4G tests showed an average of 9.5Mbps, compared to 3.6Mbps for 3G and 6Mbps for DSL. Fibre, of course, is another leap forward, averaging 21.6Mbps from the 3,120 tests run by home users.

In reality, 4G speeds might be even higher. Telstra 4G averages 12.5Mbps (from a sample of 2,188 tests) and Optus averages 13.6Mbps (just 110 tests). The remainder of the tests — just over half — have no internet service provider (ISP) associated with it, meaning that we didn't recognise the IP range. It's curious that there are so many, and that these speeds, on average, are so much slower. For whatever reason, these results could be lowering our average. Nonetheless, we can easily conclude that 4G is knocking the pants off 3G and many fixed services right now.

The big question is, what will happen when the network starts filling up? At this point, I was hoping to demonstrate that 3G networks were suffering congestion that resulted in slower speeds, but that's not the case. Over the last nine months, 3G services have held their own; in fact, if anything, speeds have picked up a little. An average of 3.4Mbps in February peaked to more than 4Mbps in May and August, finishing at 3.8Mbps for October. So a well-provisioned 4G network can hopefully achieve the same result, maintaining its impressive speed record.

It's not all good news, though. We know that mobile services can suffer depending on their locale, and 4G is no exception. 40 percent of the tests achieved speeds of less than 5Mbps. Almost 70 percent were less than 10 Mbps — that's a quarter of the top speed touted by Telstra.

4G is great, if it works, but it will never achieve the consistency of a good fixed connection.

Topics: Networking, Mobility, Australia

About

Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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8 comments
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  • ehhaaa... what?

    Why so slow speeds with 3G and 4G in USA?

    In EU, 3G offers 21-169MBits speeds easily. I pay 2 euros a month for unlimited speed & amount and when I used 3G SIM I got 12.8MB/s easily on road. Then I swapped SIM card to 4G as I bought 4G device and I get now over 42MB/s every day for 2 euros a month.

    There are very rare places where speed drops down to 3Mbit/s (300KB/s) and those are areas where there is no cities at 200km range.
    Fri13
  • The testing may not be conclusive

    While not specifically mentioned, I'm assuming the tests were conducted with speedtest.net. I've found that many services like 4G (and fixed wireless) where the contention potential is higher, have buffering and traffic shaping which shows great results in a short burst, but drop dramatically when transferring a larger volume.

    eg: testing Telstra 4G recently I received speedtest.net results of 40Mbps download, when performing a HTTP download and measuring the bandwidth, the speed dropped to less than 10Mbps and over a minute or more dropped to 1Mbps or less. Upload has been similar.

    We observed similar results when analysing 3G connections a few years ago. Also worth checking is if your network application is understood by the traffic shaping. We encountered very poor results if an interactive application (RDP) was encapsulated by VPN.
    cc-asmith
    • Tests using ZDNet Broadband Speed test

      Here is the url: http://www.zdnet.com/broadband-speedtest/
      It's hosted by Akamai to minimise influence of the user's network.
      phildobbie
  • 4G vs 4G LTE

    A lot of it is in the wording. A lot of companies were tossing around the word 4G like nothing because they figured "well this speed is a little faster than 3G....so we will call it 4G" Hence the EVO 4G on Sprint. I don't know if the author is referring to that type of 4G or 4G LTE because on Verizon’s 4G LTE network I average 30-44 mbps never lower than 15 for sure. I'd like to see a comparison then of LTE networks vs. fiber.
    KaseyTheGreat
    • 4G LTE

      Actually, it depends on what the user classified as 4G. But the test are in Australia where Optus and Telsta both operate LTE networks.
      phildobbie
      • yeah

        It isn't what user classify but what standardized technoly is allowed to be called. Like the dual carrier 3G what is allowed to be wood and promote as 4G.

        Still... it is a terrible in many countries that 3G speeds are so low, as it is not a wonder why many is promoting a 4G connection as it will give them lowest 3G Speeds in many European country, where people don't care about 4G because they don't need over 3MB/s to their handset. Even everything over 300KB/s is overkill and 150-200KB/s is more than enough for most people.
        Fri13
  • the U.S. system needs upgrading

    The speeds of data movement in the U.S. will lag behind Europe and Canada because the companies are still upgrading the network from copper to fibre optics. The last mile connectivity issue still exists in the U.S. The rollout of 4G is slower than in Europe, probably due to distance factors. I know that on the road that I will see the EDGE network icon on my smartphone.
    Peter M Walker
    • we all know

      that big and major broadband company like att, charter and comcast, to name few just want to make more money on us by over charging and killing all competition. In Europe, big telecom companies must lend their copper lines to the competition at competitive prices. there is already ADSL 2 almost everywhere..
      ismaine