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Need for speed should not exceed need to maintain budget

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver February 7-13, 2012 Issue #1163 High Tech Office column

2019 update: If you're interested in the speed of your Internet connection - and in particular, if you feel like you might be able to improve your connection's performance, take a peek at https/speedcheck.org/ - an internet speed test with the most extensive guide on how to troubleshoot speed and connection issues - written so even grandmas can understand.

If you’ve played computer games, you’ve probably run into some version of Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed. Produced locally at EA’s studio, the classic NFS III let players race through what are recognizably Vancouver streets and parks proving that faster is better. Speeding through downtown streets is frowned upon in real life, however. Instead of a souped-up Ford LTD, those of us with a need for speed these days might instead opt for LTE.

LTE (for long-term evolution, though what that means is unclear) is a high-speed wireless network available from Rogers from Horseshoe Bay to Aldergrove (along with Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal – 25 markets promised for 2012.) Competitors Bell and Telus are promising LTE networks, but not quite yet, not here, though Bell’s billboards already promise “LTE speeds” with selected phones.

I tried out three devices on Rogers’ LTE network. The Sierra Wireless Aircard 313U (marketed by Rogers as an LTE Rocket Stick) plugs into a USB port on a Windows or Mac laptop or desktop, while HTC’s Jetstream and Raider are Android-powered tablets and smartphones. Rogers also offers LTE versions of the Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone and a mobile hotspot.

(There are no LTE versions of Apple’s mobile devices, perhaps due to the relatively small percentage of mobile customers currently with LTE availability.)

Last fall, John Boynton, Rogers executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, proclaimed that “with LTE wireless network coverage, customers have access to speeds similar to broadband connections, making it easier for people to use their devices to download apps, stream HD videos and music or play online games, with virtually no delays or buffering.”

I tested this claim using the Rocket Stick on my Mac laptop, comparing LTE performance to my mid-tier Shaw cable home network logging into two different online bandwidth-testing sites.

The results were not entirely consistent; the tests at reviews.cnet.com/internet-speed-test rated the LTE connection up to three times faster than my Shaw connection.

However, speeds for the two types of connections seemed identical according to testmy.net – though both were rated twice as fast as the 3G connection on a colleague’s iPhone. (Or test your connection speed with comparitech).

These tests measure the time it takes to download large files. They provide scientific-seeming numbers but don’t entirely reflect actual online use. Browsing online with LTE felt different from what I was used to: web pages didn’t gradually load, one element at a time. Instead, with LTE at first it seemed like nothing was happening. Suddenly, though, everything appeared at once. Probably faster overall, but that initial pause could make it feel slower.

Rogers suggests that the high download speeds make LTE a superior method of watching streaming video, both on a handheld device or connected to an HDTV. In addition, the company hopes that it will enable a range of new, rich, connected applications.

For example, it demoed a scenario where an ambulance bringing a patient to a hospital emergency department video conferenced with admission and medical staff, getting a head start on treatment while on the road.

Rogers is currently offering LTE introductory plans that provide 10 gigabytes (GB) of data for about $50 per month. Regular pricing includes two GB for $35 and six GB for $60 with a $10 cost for each additional GB.

(A two-hour high definition movie streamed over Netflix comes in at about 3.5 GB, so only a few movies each month could use all that bandwidth.)

Owners of LTE smartphones should note that these prices do not include standard voice service.

With LTE here (at least locally) from Rogers and in the works from the other major mobile providers, it’s worth considering.
As a technology, it promises to fulfil mobile users’ need for speed, making rich multimedia connections as practical as it already is for users connected to wired and Wi-Fi networks.

But ordinary users should resist the promise of streaming high-definition movies on their mobile devices, at least at current prices.

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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to alan@zisman.ca are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Facebook for notice of new blog postings.
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