4G Can Be Fast, But There's No Way It 'Eclipses' The NBN

There's a pretty ridiculous article over on The West Australian with the headline that "Wireless 4G leaves NBN in its wake." A great attention grabbing headline, to be sure, but that's about all I like about the piece. There's a reasonable chance that as a Giz reader you already know what I'm going to (mildly) rant about here; I'm more writing this so you've got something you can point out to relatives/friends/anyone who persists with the whole "but wireless could be faster than fixed" myth.

A tip of the hat here; Renai LeMay over at Delimiter spotted this one first, and I utterly agree with his dissection of the piece.

But you're here right now, so here's the West Australian's analysis in a nutshell: They tested Telstra's 4G USB modem in central Perth. So far, so good, even though they're not exactly testing the latest and greatest there. Speeds achieved by the West Australian ranged from 7.91Mbps to 36.36Mbps downloading, although only a single upload figure was listed at 21.14Mbps. That's fair enough too; I've hit similar speeds at certain times with Telstra's 4G equipment, ranging from the USB modem to the USB Hotspot, Samsung Galaxy Tab 4G and Samsung Galaxy S II 4G.

Declaring it as leaving NBN plans as "eclipsing" the speed of the NBN, though? Uh... no.

Not at all, and not even Telstra's likely to make that particularly ridiculous claim; their own material consistently states that you might get between 2-40Mbps for any given 4G product. That's because wireless is astonishingly variable, as I've seen in all my own 4G tests. When it works, it's great, but when it doesn't -- and Elly noticed this particularly with the Velocity 4G, as did I with the WiFi Hotspot -- it can drop down astonishingly quickly. You're on shared spectrum, and it's limited. Sometimes terribly so; when I was testing the new iPad at Melbourne airport (reminder; it's not 4G Australian compatible) and couldn't get signal, I whipped out the 4G USB modem... and still couldn't get signal. With any wireless broadband, you're not only fighting the laws of physics, but also potentially moving around, creating points of wireless interference as you go. It's not a fixed speed, and any carrier who tried to sell it as such would quickly find themselves looked at rather sternly by the ACCC.

Whereas the NBN plans -- even the lowest speed plans that the West Australian article hangs its argument on -- are fixed speed plans. If you're on a 12Mbps plan, you'll get 12Mbps. On 25Mbps, you get... well, I'm sure you can work it out. Yes, there will be contention issues, but they're not based around the actual medium that the data has to travel through to any great extent, at least not until we break the speed of light. Let me know when that happens; I've got these plans for a time machine to dust off when you do.

Equally, I know, there's an obvious rejoinder to this, given that the NBN is still in the rollout phase, so you've got to be in an NBN area (or within the current three year plan) to see the benefit. But that's a matter of time, not technology; the claim that (and I'm quoting directly here) "A new wave of 4G wireless broadband networks will eclipse the speed of some fibre plans before the National Broadband Network even rolls through Perth streets." just doesn't stand up. [West Australian via Delimiter]

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