Jun 25

I don’t need 4G: 3.nG which delivers as promised would be more than good enough

The Wall Street Journal of June 4th had an article entitled “Europe Is Losing the 4G Race”. It argues that, from being a cellular leader, the “region trails Asia and the U.S. …”. It attributes this to a lack of investment in 4G plus over-regulation. Talk about the wrong conclusion. Who cares about 4G?  It is 4G, arguably, that is irrelevant.
The problem about delivery of 3G is not about conventional voice — talking to each other by phone; the technological requirements here have have not really changed between 2G to 3G to 4G. Instead the key problem concerns data delivery (which does embrace digital voice, including phone conversations made over Skype and others). Digital data over 3G has been a huge customer disappointment, to individuals and to businesses — and this continues, and will likely continue into 4G.

When 3G arrived in the early 2000s its mobile data speed was pathetic, though way better than 2G:

  • 3G’s initial theoretical data speed was specified at 0.2Mb/sec
  • various improvements added to 3G networks (often labelled as 3.5G or even 3.75G raised this to 14.4Mb/sec download and 5.76Mb/sec upload and even, with HSPA+, to 168Mb/sec download and 22Mb/sec upload
  • in theory 4G will provide 100Mb/sec for high mobility users and up to 1Gb/sec for low or static users.

Herein lies the first problem. Irrespective of country and technology, telephone carriers simply do not deliver what they claim. For evidence just turn to your local carrier’s performance statistics, as provided by your local regulator. The evidence is clear. In Australia, for example, most 3G+ delivers a maximum of between 1-4Gb/sec download speed, and equivalently slower speeds for upload. Even 4G in ‘well supported geographical areas’ produces only 15-20Mb/sec of download speed and less when at the edges of such ‘well supported geographical areas’.

Note the pattern here. 3G+, using the Australian experience, delivers between 7% and 30% of what 3.5G should be capable; 4G delivers 15%-20% of what 4G should deliver. (In fairness, ADSL has much the same reputation — of delivering far less than the relevant carriers’ ads proclaim.) This explains why so many telephone companies are in trouble with their telco regulators or their advertising regulators. Put bluntly, the standard in the industry is proactively to misrepresent the quality of service that the individual or business customer will actually receive. Worse, the telephone companies then use their own inability to deliver what say they offer to argue for technological changes that will cost them plenty and customers even more.
So, back to the title. I don’t think I need 4G. 3.5G or 3.75G (call it 3.nG) which provides me, or my business, with reliable mobile data performance of (say) 10Mb/sec download with 5Mb/sec upload would in 95% of instances be more than satisfactory. If the data speeds rose to 20Mb/sec download and 10Mb/sec upload I am not sure it would make all that much difference.

There is on caveat, however: latency. Latency is the delay in the network. For browsing the Internet or even for streaming (once the connection is made) or file transfer medium, moderate to high latency is not usually produce a problem: users do not notice and are pretty forgiving as they do understand that delays could be a result of issues anywhere in the hugely complex connection infrastructure that is the Internet. Thus non-low latency need not be a significant issue for most purposes.
Yet there is one obvious place where latency does become an issue — voice carried over the mobile data network (Skype, Whatsapp, etc.). Without low latency digital data, voice conversations become impractical. Hmmm. Is there a coincidence here? Might telephone carriers prefer high latency 3G, and potentially 4G, data networks because these force users to make calls by more conventional means which result in more revenue? It is an interesting question (to which no real reply can reasonably be expected). Suffice it to say that the absence of low latency mobile data when it is needed tends to destroy faith the that network.

Europe may be behind the US and Asia in deploying 4G. Frankly this would not matter one iota if 3.nG data speeds with low latency when this was needed were a reality. It is not 4G which matters. It is the mobile service. I don’t want to have to buy a 4G-enabled phone in order to obtain a quality of service that I should had from 3.nG. Europe would not be behind if its carriers delivered the same quality of service over 3.nG that most (say 80%) users want or need.

The point here is that telephone companies delude themselves and thereby their customers. They invest in the latest and best goodies which costs them a fortune — without bothering to try to deliver what is more than good enough in an existing generation of technology. The practical justification for 4G for customers has not been made, especially when 3.nG should deliver so much more.

 Given this, most (perhaps 99%) of customers — whether in business or as individuals do not need 4G. Perhaps mobile telephone companies need 4G.  But that is different when what customers need is 3.nG which delivers at 40-50% of what the telephone companies said they would deliver. Instead customers will be asked to pay more for what should already exist. This is what the European Commission should focus on — however unhappy technology-drunk carriers might then be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *