4G – Backhaul is key

4G   Backhaul is key

Many months ago we performed some slightly unscientific speed tests and came to the conclusion that “traffic management” was active on certain mobile networks. Our tests at the time showed that a 3G / HSPDA connection never seemed to deliver more than 2Mbps whilst other networks delivered more when they could. Although we can’t say for sure, it looked like QoS (Quality Of Service) and traffic shaping had been implemented to ensure that people got a fair slice of the bandwidth pie.

When your local mast is sat in a field and connected to the mobile network via a microwave uplink or leased line, the pie is smaller. In towns and cities you can hook your mast into a fibre connection and it’ll be capable of delivering faster speeds to mobile devices, but the disparity between “theoretical” speeds and “real” speeds will become larger when you drive back to that field again.

Your phone can download data at a fantastic rate, but if that mast is being used by lots of others or it has a weedy uplink, your speeds are going to drop.

Contention. It’s a word we’ve all heard of when looking at ADSL broadband services. If Bob next door is downloading some naughty torrent and Tracy across the road is watching the iPlayer, you’re going to get a (bit) less bandwidth through the BT exchange. The same happens at the ISP, so consumer internet providers tend to closely monitor their peak periods – the evening and weekends. QoS, port blocking, traffic shaping and “network management” systems are usually deployed because, if every ISP purchased a pipe big enough just to provide a completely unmonitored service for their (relatively brief) peak periods, they’d have to charge you more. It’s for this reason that I use a Business ISP because, when I get home, their upstream pipe is fairly empty.

This is the challenge for 4G.

Did we get speed figures at the EE 4G launch yesterday? Well yes, we did, but they were buried deep down under phrases like “superfast mobile internet” and “five times faster than 3G” instead.

Five times faster than 3G

Let’s pause for a moment, because I don’t believe people have scrolled way down the small print. Remember my opening paragraph? Remember the fuss we caused when we showed than 2Mbps seemed to be the best we could get on certain 3G networks?

I’ve dug out a direct quote from the most recent Ofcom speed survey, and it’s included way down on the EE website too. I’m not criticising EE here because they’re being very honest, and I think it’s time we expect the truth from our providers. Remember a few years ago, when you bought into that whole “Up to 8Mbps ADSL” sales pitch? Did you get 8Mbps or anywhere near it? No. At best you probably you got 4-6 Mbps if the wind was in the right direction,it was 5AM and you could throw rocks at the exchange.

So, EE tell us..

4G five times faster than 3G – Based on 1.5Mbps UK average speed for 3G.

See that? You’re getting an average of 1.5Mbps on your smartphone through 3G. Although we hear about 4G running at 100Mbps, EE tell us that you can expect ..

8-12 Mbps average speed for 4GEE

These figures are based of EE’s own data, but it’s actually quite satisfying to hear a network stating that 8-12 Mbps will be your average speed expection. In years past we could have heard slightly misleading phrases like “up to 40 Mbps”. If we’d heard that yesterday it would make us perceive the actual, “real world” speeds as a disappointment.

They should easily achieve the 8-12 Mbps too.

Why? Well this is where it gets interesting, because EE will also offer fibre broadband to your home with AVERAGE speeds of 58.5 Mbps. Current fibre (FTTC) connections fall way short of this. If they can plug the majority of their masts in their own speedy fibre connections then we’ll all benefit. A good backhaul network is essential to this rollout, and by the sounds of it, this is exactly what EE are planning.

4G   Backhaul is key

Samsung to deliver Jelly Bean in October
iOS app review - 5K Runmeter
  • I couldn’t believe when I left 3 for T-Mobile that my speed went from 8mbs to 1.5mbs from the same mast (through their network sharing arrangement), as a result of T-Mobile’s data cap.
    Resulted in me leaving T-mobile and going straight back to 3!!

    They have to get this right – if 4g is going to be just 8mbs, well I can get that at the moment on 3g thank you very much

  • Anonymous

    I am actually fairly satisfied with my 3G speeds generally speaking. I have access to Vodafone, O2 and 3 networks, and can usually get a fairly good speed out of at least one of them in any given place I’ve tried.

    As far as I can tell, 4G will not increase coverage, speed (to any great extent) and it’ll be no friendlier on battery life (less I’ve heard). What I’d really rather see is more extensive 3G coverage, and of a better general quality. If the 3G technology has a theoretical maximum of 21Mb/s, then I’d like to see it get a bit closer to that over more of the country regardless of which network you choose.

    I remember being extremely excited when 3G hit the UK, being extremely disappointed when 3’s 3G network didn’t allow Internet traffic, and then the amazing speeds (384Kb/s!) I got when I eventually got 3G internet access on one of the existing networks.

    At the time (I’d say about 8 years ago), this really was an amazing thing, and it really didn’t catch on until around 4-5 years ago. The UK networks, and their draconian data policies were very slow to adapt and make it affordable. Now the technology is quite old, and I don’t think they’ve really taken full advantage of it.

    These days, it’s pretty easy to munch through 500MB of data on a smartphone. I still don’t understand why the baseline wholesale data price is so expensive in the UK. In fact, I believe it’s recently gone up. I think all this stuff needs to be addressed before anyone will care about a 4G network.

  • Telecoms worker

    All of EE’s trial and roll out sites will be connected on Gig E backhaul which will be more than enough. They’ve spent the last couple of years upgrading the backhaul and moving as much as they can from Microwave.
    As for speeds, it’s more often than not down to what your USIM is provisioned for (how fast your account is set at) and how busy the site is. The capacity is there on the sites but it has it’s limitations and alot of urban sites are busting due to sheer volume of subscribers.