SA’s mobile broadband speeds higher than US

South Africa’s broadband environment is an anomaly when compared to international trends.  While fixed line connections like ADSL, cable modem and fibre-to-the-home dominate broadband markets across the world, wireless broadband connections have long overtaken ADSL as the most popular way to connect to the Internet.

The strong performance of wireless connections in South Africa are due to the relatively aggressive pricing of wireless connections and the fact that providers like Vodacom, MTN and Telkom are early adopters of wireless broadband technologies like HSPA.  This – coupled with the fact that Telkom’s ADSL offerings are well below world standards in terms of speed and pricing – means that many consumers opt for a mobile broadband connection rather than a fixed line offering.

A feather in the cap of South Africa’s mobile operators is the fact that recent testing showed that Vodacom, MTN and Telkom’s mobile broadband services outperformed similar offerings from Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

The PC World tests

For the PC World evaluation 1-minute stress tests were used to evaluate the quality and performance of the various HSDPA services.  Network delay, upload speed, download speed and reliability were tested.  The full results can be viewed online:  http://www.pcworld.com/zoom?id=167391&page=1&zoomIdx=1

“We conducted the tests using industry-standard wireless-testing software (Ixia Chariot) running on a Windows XP SP3 laptop,” PC World stated.  “To connect to each network, we used the latest USB modem from each vendor: AT&T’s USBConnect Option Quicksilver, Sprint’s Sierra Wireless USB 598, and Verizon Wireless’s Novatel Wireless USB 727.”

PC World versus Local HSDPA testing

The PC World testing was far more comprehensive than the local testing, and the fact that the latest modems were used in the US tests means that the highest possible speeds were achieved.

Local mobile broadband testing done by Vodacom, MTN and Telkom subscribers involved a variety of modems, many of which were not 7.2 Mbps HSDPA and HSUPA enabled.  These lower end modems are likely to produce inferior results when compared to tests conducted by the latest modems, something which further indicates that the local mobile broadband service levels are indeed superior to the United States.

This is particularly true for Telkom’s HSDPA service where the company provided subscribers with Huawei E220 modems which are not HSUPA enabled.  Many Vodacom and MTN subscribers may have also used the popular Huawei E220 modems.

Another issue which counts in South Africa’s favour is that the US testing was likely to include only local speed tests while the MyBroadband speed tests included both local and international speed tests where slower international speeds reduced the average speeds.

The results

While South Africa easily trumped the United States on download speeds, the US had higher average upload speeds than South Africa.  This may well be related to local subscribers who formed part of the survey using older modems which are not HSUPA enabled.

The following table provides a snapshot of the results from the recent PC World research and the 2009 Broadband Survey conducted by MyBroadband.

Mobile Broadband Speed Comparison
Average Download Speed (Kbps) Average Upload Speed (Kbps)
Telkom 1808 257
MTN 1396 441
Vodacom 1233 311
Average 1479 336
Verizon 951 426
AT&T 812 660
Sprint 808 377
Average 857 488

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SA’s mobile broadband speeds higher than US