Telstra’s 4G Plans Remind Us Of Mobile Broadband Limitations

Telstra’s 4G Plans Remind Us Of Mobile Broadband Limitations

Telstra has announced plans to release upgraded 4G dongles and handsets that will offer theoretical speeds of up to 150Mbps. Yet the very large difference between the theoretical maximum and what users can actually expect to receive reminds us that however useful they are, mobile networks have inherent speed maximisation issues.

In a post on its Exchange blog yesterday, Telstra said it would release Cat 4 devices later this year (disappointingly, it doesn’t mention Wi-Fi hotspots). Its current Cat 3 equipment has a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbps for downloads. In practice, Telstra says customers typically experience speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps on those services. We’ve rarely seen sustained speeds at the later level, and the more people who sign up for 4G, the lower that likelihood becomes.

Cat 4 devices have a theoretical maximum download speed of 150Mbps. Telstra says its own tests in Perth and Esperance suggest a maximum throughput of 90Mbps. That’s much faster than 40Mbps, but still represents only two-thirds of the potential maximum speed. Achieving that speed requires Telstra to have over 20MHz of continuous 4G spectrum available, which will not be the case in many of the areas where 4G is currently active.

The Telstra posts is refreshingly honest about the reality of mobile broadband, highlighting all those figures itself, noting all the other factors that can influence network performance and pointing out that once you reach a certain speed level, the number of sites you can access that will take advantage of that speed are fairly minimal. It also repeats a point we find ourselves constantly making at Lifehacker: speeds for mobile broadband depend on wired connections as well:

There is no point using the latest wireless technology if the tower or cell is not using a high bandwidth connection back into the core network. In the Telstra network over 93% of the population is served by a base station with 1Gigabit capable backhaul. These are currently configured at either more than 100 or 200 Mbps per site.

We’ll certainly be testing out the new Cat 4 devices when they appear to see how the speed measures up in the real world. As ever, we’ll expect improvements, but also a wide range of performance.

Telstra 4G network set to get faster [Telstra Exchange]


  • While waiting for an ADSL service to be installed at a new premise in Melbourne CBD, I have had to rely on tethering using my Google Nexus on Telstra 4G network.

    I was staggered by the abysmal performance of the Telstra 4G network that regularly stalls with ping times often jumping from the 200ms range to hit 10000ms, 20000ms and beyond.

    If Telstra cannot provide a reliable 4G network, why should I believe the promises about the wonders of a Cat 4 version?

    • That’s the first thought that always runs through my head. Why aren’t they focusing on reliability and latency rather than unrealistic ‘theoretical’ speeds?

      Probably because marketing a higher speed doesn’t rubbish the previous speed whereas if they put a campaign out for ‘Hey, now our network actually WORKS!’ it probably wouldn’t be to well received.

      Just recently I switched from Vodafone and while the reception bars on my phone are always consistently higher I haven’t noticed and better data experience at all.

      • So Im not the only who has been experiencing rubbish 4G coverage with Telstra.

        I have set my HTC One XL to GSM/wcdma network mode instead of the 4G mode and NextGs coveage is so much better it rarely dropouts. My issue with 4G is that when I do get coverage for it, it drops out and goes to hspa then i get a response. They need to fix this up asap

        Btw Optus 4G coverage is absolutely crap and very limited.

  • With my iPhone 5 my LTE speeds are fairly consistent at about 20 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. Thats a far cry from 150 Mbps, but it’s still pretty darn good in my humble opinion. But as the article mentions, this speed will diminish as more people jump on the LTE band wagon.

  • I’d rather see more tower with existing 4G tech go up. The area I live in has had thousands of houses built in the last four years, and now my internet doesn’t work at all after 5PM weekdays or weekends when everyone is home and using it in the neighborhood.

  • This article cites Backhaul from towers as a dependency on wired networks, but the statement from Telstra says nothing about wire-lines – there exists PtP Gigabit wireless. Also, the “configured speed of 100-200mbps” statement suggests wireless because fibre would typically just be GigE, and not rate limited, while . Fibre backhaul could even be called “10Gigabit capable” instead.

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