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With new iPad and turbo-charged 3G, Vodafone turns tables on Telecom

Recently, popular wisdom – and some independent testing – has shown Telecom’s XT holding a performance edge over Vodafone’s 3G.

But Apple’s latest tablet shows Vodafone has regained the initiative – at least with the right hardware, in the right place.

As you’ve probably heard, the new iPad supports 4G – great news for people in the US, where compatible 4G networks are being rolled out. But not so much for New Zealand, where there won’t be any 4G during the lifetime of the iPad 3 (yes, we’re going to call it that for the sake of convenience), or at least until the iPad 4 or iPad 5 rolls around.

 Less known is that the iPad 3 also supports something called dual carrier HSPA+.

Dual what? Here’s a quick backgrounder:

Fast
A 3G mobile network can be boosted to support theoretical data download speeds of up to 14Mbit/s with HSPA (high speed packed access) technology and a compatible mobile device, such as the iPhone 4S.

Faster
Telecom, Vodafone (and now 2degrees, in places) have taken things a further, turbocharging their 3G networks to support mobile data download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s with HSPA+.

That is, faster than the speed most get from a landline broadband connection.

That’s great news if you’ve got a data dongle, or a HSPA+ compatible smartphone like Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy S2.

Fastest
Now, there’s dual carrier HSPA+, which allows for a theoretical data download speed of up to 43Mbit/s.

After a limited roll-out last year, Vodafone has expanded dual carrier HSPA+ around a number of main centers (see a coverage map here).

For now, it gives Vodafone an edge over Telecom and 2degrees.

New iPad supports dual carrier HSPA+

Late last year, Vodafone released a USB data dongle, the house-brand Vodem K4605, that supports dual carrier HSPA+. NBR was impressed during a hands-on trial, hitting speeds of up to 15Mbit/s, and in one brief thrilling moment a burst above 20Mbit/s.

Now, due to brilliant foresight or dumb luck, Vodafone can claim a second dual carrier-compatible device: the new iPad.

After using the iPad 3 with first an Apple-supplied Telecom XT Micro-SIM, then 2degrees and Vodafone Micro-SIMs, NBR can report that Vodafone offers the fastest mobile data performance, at most times, with the new tablet.

(Like its predecessors, the Micro-SIM packing models of the iPad 3 can be used on Telecom, Vodafone or 2degrees. Vodafone is the official carrier to the degree it’s the only company with dedicated iPad data plans, and that if you buy an iPad 3 4G or iPad 2 3G direct from Apple’s website, it will arrive with a Vodafone Micro-SIM.)

Yesterday in Auckland’s Albert Park – scene of both Telecom’s infamous head-to-head ad, and Vodafone’s response - NBR hit a top-speed of 9.53Mbit/s (using SpeedTest.net), with multiple results over the 9Mbit/s mark (and some around the 3Mbit/s mark). Upload speeds (typically sub-1MB for mobile) were often above 3Mbit/s – handy given people often upload photos and video to online services from mobiles these days.

It's so quick that it was several hours before I realised I'd forgotten to switch wi-fi back on.

By contrast, XT downloads topped out at 8.4Mbt/s in earlier NBR tests, averaging around the 6Mbit/s mark.

2degrees consistently clocked between 4Mbit/s and 5Mbit/s. That's solid performance and at a good price. The carrier's drawback remains its best mobile pricing is only available in its Broadband Zones (that is, centres where it's built its own network), but that area is expanding all the time.

As ever, mobile broadband testing is something of a dark art. Variables include  how many other devices are connected the closest cellsite, your proximity to and line of site to that cellsite, how much data is being transmitted on the carrier’s network and more random events like passing trucks that deflect a signal.

I see on Geekzone one iPad 3 owner has hit 23Mbit/s on Vodafone.

And Vodafone staff tell me they've clocked speeds in the high 20s - as have Geekzoners who've tethered to a laptop for a sustained FTP download of a multi-gigabit file. I don't doubt it. Dual Carrier supports that kind of speed under those circumstance (even if it would be financial suicide for most to try it). But it's peformance is good enough to shine around the 10Mbit/s mark with everyday mobile surfing, too.

That doesn’t surprise me, given I’ve been in the mid-teens and over 20Mbit/s with the dual carrier-compatible version of the Vodem.

But neither should you expect that sort of speed every day.

A rep for Vodafone told NBR that iPad users could expect real-life speeds of “anywhere up to 20Mbit/s”, sensibly dialing down expectations.

So: mobile history is again being re-written.

After its bungled XT launch, Telecom gold-plated its new network, arguable over-investing (with the help of $40 million in compo from Alcatel Lucent). On tech sites, it’s become lore that XT is indeed faster in more places for most devices, including iPhone and iPad. Even in its own testing, commissioned from Epitiro, Vodafone trailed XT in the key area of download tests.

With dual carrier, Vodafone’s turned the tables on Telecom, and clearly regained the performance lead – albeit only for iPad 3 and K4605 owners at this point.

If the next iPhone - or future Androids - join the dual carrier HSPA+ party then life will get really interesting.

Telecom will have to upgrade its network to support dual carrier - or hustle along its upgrade to 4G (Vodafone and 2degrees also have 4G plans. Like Telecom, neither carrier will give a specific time table).

That's the good news.

The bad news is that if, say, I decided to don't load an HD movie on my iPad 3 - and it could easily be streamed, at the speeds I've achieved - then I could blow through a monthly mobile data allowance in 90 minutes (Vodafone offers 2GB for $49.95 and half a gig for $20, or $10 on account).

Your immediate reaction would probably be, You fool, why didn't you download the flick via wi-fi.  After all, for many of us it's "free" around the office or home, or at least disappears into the monthly mix.

And you'd be right. It's a pity that, increasingly, all the mobile bandwidth we need is on tap - but people are becoming increasingly acclimatised to wi-fi substitution (and, indeed, a majority are buying wi-fi-only iPads, according to Telecom).

Mobile data caps have been increasing with all carriers. Let's hope that trend accelerates.

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Comments and questions
19

I don't follow all the technical bits but I have noted that Vodafone's 3G has been great in almost all the South Island places we have stopped in. No need for motel or hotel wifi, even. On my ipad2, that is. Only disaster continues to be Arrowtown.
Wish the iPhone had similarly good reception though.

Hi Chris. You say: "Vodafone offers 2GB for $49.95 and half a gig for $20, or $10 on account". Sounds good but I couldn't find that 1/2 gig for $10 on account at Vodafone. You sure of that one?

[https://www.vodafone.co.nz/internet/tablets/ipad-data/ - CK]

What a load of c**p, Telecom has a far superior network

I have "raced" all my Voda mates v Telecom and never lost a single download.

Voda 2G/3G mongrel network is rubbish

[I've also found XT faster, in more places at most times. But with its DC HSPA+ support I've found the new iPad on Vodafone, and the latest Vodem data stick, faster than all-comers. - CK]

spot the post above from the Telecom NZ employee my SGII walks all over XT on Vodafone, XT is good but not as good as big red

as long as you aint in a deep 2100 hole. GPRS Rocks.. yay vodafone

I will never ever go back to Telecom, don't care if they give away gold with every data package.

Dual channel offers faster speeds - but uses twice the spectrum resources. There's no magic involved, and the towers don't suddenly support twice as many users as they would otherwise.

The fastest macro network on a day to day basis will be the one with the best ratio of deployed spectrum to subscribers. That's probably Telecom, as all their towers support 3G, and they've got far fewer subscribers on XT. One of these days it could be 2Degrees, especially if they keep up their build schedule.

Vodafone has a good chunck of 2100Mhz band they actually have tri carrier sites but the 3rd carrier is not bonded!

In my own extensive testing around Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton & the Waikato on my Samsung GS2 - Vodafone beats Telecom's XT, often by a considerable margin.

I live just out of Hamilton & often achieve 8-9.5Mbit Down & 2.3-2.5Mbit Up. In Hamilton I have achieved over 15Mbit on my Samsung GS2.

Extensive testing was conducted in Hamilton late last year - which showed Vodafone significantly faster than XT by a massive margin, with Speed Tests, FTP Downloads & Lower Latency.... view the report here:

http://www.androidmobile.co.nz/item/1027-s-p-e-e-d-report-vodafonenz-vs-telecom-xt-in-hamilton

The Epitiro Speed Study, contrary to this article, was actually significantly FASTER on the both the Download & Upload in Auckland & Wellington CBD's on Vodafone -with Telecom & 2 Degrees lagging behind.

See the Full Epitiro Report can be viewed at the bottom of this article:

http://www.androidmobile.co.nz/item/899-epitiro-conduct-speed-testing-on-nz-mobile-networks-in-wellington-auckland-cbds

Cheers

Chris,

You have not mentioned the fact that Vodafone have "SIGNIFICANTLY" - as in 100,000's MORE 3G Customers - than both Telecom & 2 Degrees!!

Even despite this - Vodafone are performing better in Mobile Network Speed.....

It looks patchy to say the least.... and what phones work with this dual carrier. as far as i can make out it's the ipad3.

I can easily achieve 10-15Mbit on my Samsung GS2 in multiple locations around NZ - who needs "the "new" iPad?!!

Gotta love how my post calling the "new iPad" was deleted! LOL

hmm "insert stupid name here" "new iPad" I see certain characters are not allowed....

I don't care who is the fastest, HSPA is plenty good enough.

What I do care about is how much of a total rip pricing is.

I've dumped Telecom wont touch Vodafone with a bargepole and have gone to 2degrees as they are significantly cheaper. If an even cheaper option hits the market I'll go there (skinny where for art thou???)

In short Telecom is a dysfunctional management heavy mess whilst Vodafone are a pack of brit corporate scumbags who dont give a damn about NZ as long as their UK shareholders continue get wealthy.

Bit of a mess innit!

who woulda thought that feminine hygene products would be so fast?

Does anyone have connection problems on the bus from Albany to Queen Street sometimes outside Vodafones head Office using an iPhone. Vodafone sya when travelling by car they have no problems. Mines a iPhone GS and Voddafone are blaming it on the sim card, or iPhones as they get older are losing reception. Anyone done a survey on the longevity of iPhones, battery replacement life, durability etc?

Nek Minnit.....LTE

Vodafone 3G = LOTS of holes