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Hands-on: SingTel LTE vs HSPA+

Hands-on: SingTel LTE vs HSPA+



Hands-on: SingTel LTE vs HSPA+

LTE versus HSPA+

Earlier on, SingTel announced the upcoming availability of its first commercial long term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband service. Dubbed as Broadband on Mobile Prestige 75, the LTE data plan promises theoretical download speeds of up to 75Mbps, with  typical speeds of 3.4Mbps to 12Mbps being reported for Prestige 75.

LTE, which is essentially a speed upgrade to our existing cellular network, is the next logical infrastructure that will supercede Evolved High-Speed Packet Access, otherwise known as HSPA+. Promising theoretical download speeds of up to 21Mbps, HSPA+ has been available in Singapore since 2009, and we've seen SingTel, StarHub and M1 rolling out the speed upgrades over the past two years.

Back in June, we've touched on what LTE means to the consumers. However, with the unavailability of devices, in particular smartphones and tablets, that support LTE speeds and the lack of a commercial availability for the LTE service, it was still early days to understand how LTE will benefit consumers in the long run. With the launch of SingTel's Prestige 75 LTE data plan, the general consumer can have a taste of faster cellular download speeds on-the-move. To refresh your memory, here are the details of SingTel's Prestige 75 plan, including its price and initial coverage area.

SingTel Broadband on Mobile Prestige 75 LTE Price Plan
Price (including GST) S$69.90 per month
Data Bundle 50GB 3G data (21Mbps ) + 10GB LTE data
Excess Charges S$0.512/MB, capped at S$94.16 per month
Download Speed Theoretical: 75Mbps
Typical range: 3.4Mbps to 12Mbps

Comes with free Huawei E392 USB LTE modem and free Wireless@SG (3Mbps)

Coverage Areas

Shenton Way Orchard City Hall Marina Bay
River Valley Tanglin Newton Novena
Rochor Kallang Outram Tanjong Pagar
Boon Lay Jurong West Bukit Panjang Bedok
Changi Ngee Ann City Plaza Singapura Ang Mo Kio Hub
Tampines Mall West Mall Parkway Parade Jurong IMM
Republic Plaza Temasek Tower

If you've noticed, the Prestige 75 plan comes with 50GB of data on HSPA+ speeds and 10GB of data on LTE speeds. Earlier on, we've explained that even if you've exceeded the 10GB limit within the LTE coverage area, you won't be automatically switched back to the HSPA+ network. However, users do have the option to switch between the LTE and HSPA+ networks manually via the Huawei USB modem settings. As such, if you are nearing the 10GB limit on your LTE data, you can tap into your 50GB data on HSPA+ speeds, thus avoiding the excess charges if you remain on the LTE network.

On a similar note, the default setting is usually left at Auto, which will choose LTE as the preferred network. Once you leave the LTE coverage area, the USB modem automatically swaps to the HSPA+ network which is available across the island. However, should you leave your notebook powered up when you return to the LTE coverage area, the USB modem won't automatically switch from HSPA+ back to LTE.

Once the notebook or USB modem is powered down, and resumes operation when it enters the LTE coverage area, it will lock onto the LTE network automatically. Logically speaking, you probably will put your notebook on standby mode when you travel between areas. However, SingTel has stated that this won't be an issue when the LTE rollout stabilizes over the next few months.

We've also had a chance to check out how the new LTE speeds perform against SingTel's existing HSPA+ infrastructure. With the free Huawei E392 USB LTE modem, we conducted an initial field test of the Prestige 75 data speeds within the LTE coverage area. The speed tests were done within the basement level of Lucky Plaza to determine its in-building performance. Both the LTE and HSPA+ networks were subjected to the following tests:

  • Pinging a local server via Speedtest.net to check its download and upload speeds
     
  • Pinging a SingNet server to determine its latency
     
  • Downloading a 500MB file via an FTP server
     
  • Streaming a 1080p video on YouTube


Speedtest.net Speeds

When we ran the LTE and HSPA+ networks through Speedtest.net, we chose to ping a local server to highlight the speed difference across both networks.

LTE HSPA+

The Speedtest.net test showed LTE speeds to be remarkably faster than HSPA+, with the former reporting speeds of 71.6Mbps that's nearly ten times faster than the 7.05Mbps speeds from HSPA. The LTE uplink speed got a much move massive boost of 35.01Mbps, 50 times that of the 0.7Mbps speeds reported by SingTel's HSPA+ network.

 

SingNet Server Ping

The second test, which involves pinging a SingNet server, is targeted at how both LTE and HSPA+ handles latency. Simply put, latency talks about the measure of time delay between servers, and this is particularly important for online gamers who need a low latency for commands to reach servers in minimal time. After all, no matter how fast you react to the game, a high latency will kill your online character if the command doesn't reach the server in time.

LTE
HSPA+

With an average 30.301ms gathered from the LTE network, the latency has been reduced by at least 1/3 from the 105.452ms latency time from the 21Mbps HSPA+ network. This essentially means that you'll have less to worry about since the response time between servers will be three times faster on the LTE network.

 

Download Speeds via FTP and Streaming

For the final two tests, we are looking at the actual download speeds of LTE and HSPA+. The first involves a 500MB file being transferred from an FTP server back to a local drive, and the final test was performed via YouTube, where we timed how long it took for a 1080p video with 2 minutes and 23 seconds worth of footage to be fully loaded.

LTE HSPA+

The 500MB download looks promising for LTE, which completed the file transfer within 1 minute and 21 seconds at 6.1MB / sec (48.8Mbps). This is a sharp contrast from the HSPA+ network's download time, which ran into 11 minutes and 5 seconds for the same file with a download speed of 822KB / sec (6.576Mbps). The numbers are close to what we get from the theoretical speeds from the LTE speed of 75Mbps, but it doesn't come close to the HSPA+ speed of 21Mbps. This is probably due to the higher load being pushed on the HSPA+ network, as opposed to less users who are hogging the LTE network.

The 1080p streaming test also reported a huge difference between LTE and HSPA+, with the former completing the stream at 10 seconds while the latter clocked at 1 minute and 3 seconds. In summary, you're looking at the following numbers in a real-world situation:

  500MB File Download Time 500MB File Download Speed Time Taken to load 1080p Video on YouTube
LTE 1 minute and 21 seconds ~6.1MB / sec (48.8Mbps) 10 seconds
HSPA+ 11 minutes and 5 seconds ~822KB / sec (6.576Mbps) 1 minute and 3 seconds

 

Thoughts on LTE

As of now, LTE comes with a few compelling reasons, some of which includes download speeds improved by ten times from the existing HSPA+ speeds and a lower latency. Do note that the data that we've gathered are based on a network that hasn't reached critical mass in terms of users. During the SingTel press conference, Mr. Yuen Kuan Moon, SingTel's Executive Vice President of Digital Consumer, did mention that even though SingTel reports typical speeds of 3.4Mbps to 12Mbps for its LTE network, early adopters of the Prestige 75 service should see higher values during the initial launch since the load isn't too heavy on the network. As more subscribers jump onto LTE, the speeds should move towards the reported typical speeds.

With other countries such as Japan, Korea and the United States starting off its LTE services much earlier, Singapore is admittedly late on the bandwagon. Fortunately, the situation should improve in the months to come. Besides SingTel, M1 will be deploying its LTE network by Q1 2012 while StarHub has estimated that it will be launching its LTE service by the second half of 2012.

While no LTE devices, save for the stable of Huawei USB modems, have appeared over the last few months, we should be expecting LTE-ready smartphones and tablets sometime in 2012. This is subjected to the decision of smartphone makers such as Samsung and HTC to bring their LTE-ready devices to Singapore. Exciting times ahead, so stay tuned to HardwareZone as we bring you updates on the LTE scene when we get the latest news and findings.