Want 4G data right now? Two networks are vying for your mobile broadband dollar. But how fast are they? I hit the streets of Sydney to find out. There’s little doubt that Telstra’s trying to steal a march on its opposition with the recent launch of its ‘4G’ services -- even if its 4G isn’t really 4G at all -- but it’s not the first to market with what’s being called 4G services. That credit goes to Vivid Wireless, who have for some time been selling WiMAX access in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane as '4G'. Whether you want to quibble about exact 4G specifications, the fact remains that right now Vivid Wireless’ 4G and Telstra’s 4G are the only two consumer-facing data-only wireless networks you can connect to. But how fast are they really? I took a walk through Sydney’s CBD to test out Vividwireless’ ViViFi Wi-Fi hotspot C900W and Telstra’s USB 4G dongle.
A few quick notes before we start. Yes, I know that WiMAX isn’t LTE, and that in any reasonable network test LTE should whip WiMAX as it currently stands into a quivering jelly. This isn’t about giving Telstra a free kick, or for that matter Vivid Wireless a kicking. But both sell themselves as 4G, and both have some interesting unique selling points.
Moreover, for most folk mobile broadband is as much about access as it is about speed. If both networks can keep pace head to head, even if their connection rates are different, there’s an argument for using either, especially as Vividwireless’ product is a WiFi hotspot; Telstra’s noticeably reticent to announce any real plans around an LTE hotspot for now.
Secondly, every single time I’ve ever written about Vivid Wireless, I’ve had readers from Perth complaining that my figures are nothing like theirs; from what I can gather Vivid Wireless’ network in Perth may be better than it is in other capital cities. If anyone’s got a return Sydney to Perth plane ticket burning a hole in their pocket I’ll gladly fly out there to test, but for right now, my testing is Sydney based. Make of that what you will.
First Stop: Central Station, Sydney, Country Platforms
Commuters. Thousands of 'em.
Lots of commuters in transit should mean lots of data usage, but how did the networks compare? I ran the tests on a 2011 MacBook Air, using Speedtest.net via Chrome. Each test was run three times and averaged to give the figures.
Telstra 4G Ping: 33 Download: 11.62Mbps Upload: 9.2Mbps
Vivid Wireless 4G Ping: 68 Download: 2.71Mbps Upload: 1.23Mbps
Both networks connected fairly swiftly and without trouble, although I noted that Vivid’s hotspot has tiny indicator lights that are quite hard to read in near-direct sunlight.
Second Stop: World Square, Sydney
I remember the world being larger than this.
My second stop was as close to an indoors test as I managed. I’d noticed previously that the Vivid hotspot couldn’t get connectivity inside Gizmodo’s offices, so I wanted to test exclusively outdoors to get the best possible figures. World Square is still exposed to the elements, but you’re ringed in by buildings, providing a small level of interference. It showed; both units acted up. Telstra’s USB dongle connected but for some time insisted it didn’t know which network it was connected to; I gave it five minutes before it finally decided it was indeed connected to the 4G LTE Network.
This was better than VividWireless could manage. Despite several reboots and a ten minute wait time, the indicator light on the hotspot remained defiantly red, indicating no WiMAX coverage.
Telstra 4G Ping: 35 Download: 31.60Mbps Upload: 11.86Mbps
Vivid Wireless 4G Did not connect
Third Stop: Pitt Street Mall, Sydney
Shop ‘till you drop. But will wireless broadband drop?
The Pitt Street Mall stop made me nervous, largely because it’s very close to Telstra’s offices where they’d demonstrated LTE only a couple of days prior. With the Vivid Wireless hotspot having died on me earlier, would it even connect?
Telstra 4G Ping: 35 Download: 28.15Mbps Upload: 10.25Mbps
Vivid Wireless 4G Ping: 78 Download: 5.5Mbps Upload: 0.87Mbps
I needn’t have worried; Vivid’s download figures were its best yet, although again it struggled with uploads, and I struggled to read the connection indicator in direct sunlight.
Fourth Stop: Martin Place, Sydney
Does 4G work underwater? I wasn’t about to find out.
In the home stretch now, and with both networks offering acceptable speed. Would Martin Place offer up better speeds, or would the presence of this many data-hungry bankers dip my figures?
Telstra 4G Ping: 47 Download: 56.48Mbps Upload: 9.32Mbps
Vivid Wireless 4G Ping: 85 Download: 2.52Mbps Upload: 0.23Mbps
If the bankers are using something, it would seem to be Vivid, which has dropped speed markedly since Pitt Street. Telstra, meanwhile, recorded the best speeds I’ve had out of its 4G USB modem anywhere.
Final Stop: Circular Quay, Sydney
Not a bad view, that. Amidst the tourists, it was less likely that I’d see a lot of data heavy usage, although the Gizmodo offices are just nearby.
Telstra 4G Ping: 38.33 Download: 26.78Mbps Upload: 12.72Mbps
Vivid Wireless 4G Ping: 72 Download: 4.9Mbps Upload: 1.37Mbps
Conclusions: A clean sweep for Telstra LTE, as predicted, right? Yes, but not entirely. There’s little doubt that LTE is faster, and it should be, and that showed; even Vivid Wireless itself is testing out LTE right now, although there’s no timeline for when it’ll launch a consumer LTE product.
Where it gets interesting is in price comparison. Telstra hasn’t raised the prices for its LTE product, which is a nice step, but it’s still premium-priced, the same as its Next-G branded 3G services have always been. Hit your data cap, and you’re slowed to a 64kbps connection, which isn’t broadband at all. Comparatively, Vivid Wireless’ ace in the hole is the inclusion of a $79 all you can eat plan; if you can get access and need lots of data without worrying about usage and can live with the speed, it’s still a decent option to consider.