opinion


The great 3G speed swindle

There’s been a load of reports flying around about O2 UK limiting connection speeds for its 3G users this week. So far, I’ve resisted from weighing in on this one because there’s too much about it that doesn’t add up and too many of the reports are anecdotal.

That said, as an O2 3G user myself, the reports piqued my curiosity. Sitting at my desk in central London, I get around 650Kbps on a download, where I assume there’s HSDPA coverage. O2 tells me this is as it should be and that most users should be expecting up to 384Kbps or even up to 1.8Mbps in areas with HSDPA coverage, which is apparently most of the UK. Some very lucky users might even be able to get 10.2Mbps, although I can’t imagine you’d get anything like that except maybe in O2’s labs.

What O2 didn’t tell me, but what other sites are reporting is that O2 has two profiles for 3G users, which works in a way that customers on £35 per month tariffs get ‘full’ 3G speeds and those on less expensive tariffs get 128Kbps speeds. O2 was quick to point out that anyone who asks for full 3G speeds will get them regardless, and to be fair, you’re not likely to be spending much less than 35 quid a month if you are an O2 data user anyway. The Unlimited Web bolt on is £7.50 per month for a start.

“While no network guarantees speeds, you should certainly normally get the speed you would expect,” an O2 PR said. When asked what speeds an EDGE user could expect on O2, I was told up to 100Kbps.

That pretty much clears it up for me, but I don’t really see what the palaver was about anyway. It’s well known [in the industry at least] that advertised 3G speeds are a bit of a pipe dream, those promises of 384Kbps are burst speeds, while the constant connection is likely to fluctuate dramatically some way below that level. The problem with WCDMA is that the connection will be affected by how close the user is to the base station, how many people are in the cell etc, etc.

Disappointment over data speeds was probably inevitable when mobile users started migrating to 3G, it’s all a repeat performance of what happened when fixed line broadband took off.


One comment

  1. Pascal 11/04/2008 @ 10:59 am

    James, there in lies the problem. Networks ‘offer’ the same service yet we have always suspected that they are profiling subscribers and providing services based on the size of their bills. This is a loophole that can be exploited by operators without fear of intervention by the regulators.

    I am always amazed at how networks believe that they know what we (subscribers) want and their eagerness to pigeon-hole us.

    With everything going wireless, it will make matters worse are subscribers are paddocked into ‘schemes’ that are nothing but we well orchestrated rip off plans.

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