October 12, 2016
FASTER AND SLOWER A new report out this week has some interesting findings, especially for US cellular networks: they are slowing down while at the same time speeding up. If this doesn’t make a lot of sense, don’t worry. We can explain everything. The use of mobile data is increasing at a massive rate. In the last year, the amount of mobile data traffic over LTE (the standard method of wireless transmission via mobile devices) has increased in the US by 20%. This vast increase in users has put additional strain on the networks, leading to a drop in performance speeds. In some US cities, the network is performing as much as 50% slower than it used to. New York, for example, sat at the top of the Best LTE leaderboard for 2014. This year it is in seventh place, having suffered a 44% drop. You might have thought that having your wireless data speed drop by a half might prompt outrage among users in those locations - but the truth is that most people won’t have noticed. This is because latency speeds have been improving. ‘Latency’ is the name given to the slight delay that information takes to get from one place to another. If you’ve ever seen a news item where a reporter is broadcasting live from one county to another, you’ll have noticed that there’s often a delay after one person has finished talking. This is a good example of latency, as the signal is being broadcast through the cameras, into a broadcasting center, bouncing off a couple of satellites and being fed through into the studio. While most phone calls are not routed via satellite, there are fractional delays when connecting calls across country, or between a smartphone and a router feeding information from the internet. Thanks to better technology and upgraded networks, cellular networks have cut even these tiny delays down even further, to the extent that it counters the slowdown caused by network overload%u2026 for now. There are likely to be problems in the future, however, as the rate of increase in mobile data traffic is only set to continue to rise. Networks will need to invest heavily in new technology and network improvement. Another reason why there has been little outrage in the drop in performance speeds is because most people use WIFI, and WIFI has been getting faster even as LTE is getting slower. In most US cities, WIFI is twice as fast as LTE and while it may have dropped almost 50% in LTE speed, New York’s WIFI speed is three times faster. Networks will have to invest heavily in continuing to improve their network performance if they’re going to keep up. The rise in use of mobile data is set to continue to rise for at least the next five years. The development of national 4G networks and other technologies will help with this, but they won’t be cheap. Given that networks will be seeing an approximate $50 billion increase in revenue from all this mobile data use, they should be able to afford it. In the meantime, if you were wondering who comes out on top, Verizon has the best national coverage, but T-Mobile has the best speeds. And if you want to use mobile data while you’re in the USA, a Telestial data SIM card and JT Hotspot are the right combination to get the very best performance. So now you know!