updated 04:05 pm EDT, Thu July 7, 2011
Our Rogers LTE test shows fast speeds
We've had the opportunity to use Rogers' new LTE 4G network both on our own equipment as well as on a handful of devices the company had at its live event. Regardless of the hardware, we've seen speeds that even put Verizon's LTE network to shame. Read ahead for our first takes -- as well as some big concerns about the bandwidth limits being put on such a fast service.
Our first experiences were with gear at Rogers' venue. We started off with the simple test of playing Halo: Reach on an Xbox 360 by using an Ericsson LTE home modem (sadly, not available as a purchasable device). We couldn't get performance data from the consoles, but we could say that the experience was 'transparent;' that is, you wouldn't have noticed a significant difference from a good landline connection.
More interesting was a test in a Rogers demo bus that circled around the downtown Ottawa core. The testing was no doubt in ideal conditions -- outdoors in the most important 4G coverage area Rogers has right now -- but was done using the same Sierra Wireless AirCard 313U modem we now have. There, we saw speeds that beat even the best we've seen from Verizon so far. Downstream speeds were usually above 40Mbps, uploads were above 20Mbps, and lag was low at about 25-35ms. These were speeds you'd expect from a genuinely good hardwired connection, and they were good enough to stream a 4Mbps video feed without any hiccups.
But how does it fare in real life? We brought the AirCard 313U home and installed it on a Mac with a quick reboot being the only real nuisance. Not surprisingly, the speeds further out from the downtown core and on our own hardware wasn't as breakneck as Rogers' test, but it was still very fast and noticeably better than Verizon's own real-world speeds. On average, we saw speeds of about 20Mbps down and 5Mbps with lag times near 50ms. Clearly that isn't as good, but it's what we were told to expect and still about as good as an average cable link. That bore out in practical use, where the speed was roughly the same outside of a few edge cases; downloads were faster than what we're used to at home.
Our results were indoors, too, so it's closer to what you'd get were you to use LTE as a backup connection or at a coffee shop without Wi-Fi.
The chief obstacle? As was hinted virtually from the start, it was and continues to be bandwidth caps. Rogers acknowledged that its bandwidth terms meant that HD video streaming and some other tasks would best be handled on a wired link, and that the upgrade was more for the quality than the capacity, but it's still pretty evident that the rates are disproportionate to the actual speed increase.
One guest at the event pointed out that the 1.5GB on the $45 minimum plan would be killed by an HD video stream in roughly an hour; and while it's better than the 3G pricing, it more illustrates how bad the current 3G pricing is, not how much better value the 4G is. A Verizon subscriber in the US pays $30 for 2GB and gets 5GB for $50; as much as many Americans consider that pricing too steep, it's a bargain next to Rogers. Bandwidth boosts should be more commensurate to the actual speed gains, even if it's not one-to-one.
We've been given a glimmer of hope from Rogers comments that they'll likely increase the caps as data usage goes up. The questions are by how much and how soon. Rogers' LTE is an awesome service in its current form, but until the caps reach truly reasonable levels, it will be more about improving the things users already do on their notebooks, phones, and tablets, not transforming what people can do -- the way it should be.