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Guess what? XT’s upgrade rocks

Tue, 20 Apr 2010

 

On Telecom’s downgrade call Thursday, chief executive Paul Reynolds was asked how Telecom’s XT network would win back customers from Vodafone.

“By being faster in more places,” replied Dr Reynolds.

After all that’s happened, the line sounded rote and stale.

But the craziest thing is, when XT’s not falling over, he’s right. And the network has got a speed boost.

On Friday and over the weekend, I’ve been trying out Telecom’s HSPA+ enhanced version of XT.

If you’ll recall, before everything started to go wrong on December 14, Dr Reynolds pledged to turbocharge XT with HSPA+ by Christmas – and nationwide, to boot.

HSPA+ supports a theoretical peak download speed of 21Mbit/s (compared to XT’s theoretical peak of 7Mbit/s. Telecom, sensibly, is telling people to expect everyday speeds of around 4Mbit/s from HSPA+).

In fact, Telecom got most of the way there, and if you wade several clicks into its website, you can now see a new “Turbo” version of the T Stick, for $199, that supports HSPA+.

I had to badger and wheedle to get a HSPA+ data stick (officially billed as the Sierra Wireless 308 Turbo T‑Stick) out of Telecom.

I’m not sure why it took a while. Maybe the company is just too sheepish to shout about its network upgrade in the light of recent events.

On Friday a spokeswoman offered: “Our HSPA+ roll-out is very close to being complete. We are in the final stages of testing and optimising the new technology to ensure we deliver a world class mobile broadband experience for all XT customers. Once we are happy we will be making a formal announcement.”

Anyhow.

Guess what?

It goes like stink.

Using my Turbo T-Stick, I have found XT juiced by HSPA+ faster in more places. At least for now, it clocks speeds faster than most get from a landline DSL broadband connection. 

(Vodafone has a parallel HSPA+ upgrade in progress, with 100 Auckland customers - including yours truly-  on its trial. I've had one burst above 10Mbit/s on Vodafone, using an HSPA+ data stick, but in general I've hit speeds of 3Mbit/s to 4Mbit/s over the past couple of months. Very solid, if not mind-blowing. Vodafone says it will roll-out HSPA+ commercially over the course of the year. Right now, the signal is not enabled in the locations mentioned below).

When I first hit the net with the Turbo T Stick, at NBR’s Auckland office, it knocked my socks off, topping 11Mbit/s and never going below 6Mbit/s (or more than twice the speed I've clocked using a standard T-Stick).

Yes, yes, I’m aware that I’m one of the few users on the network, akin to someone allowed to zoom down a new motorway before the ribbon is cut. But I've still got to share back-haul with the masses now on the plain vanilla version of XT.

But still, the Turbo hit speeds of twice my landline connection (see the Speedtest.net screen shot that opens this article. For all tests I used a laptop running Windows Vista, with no comms settings tweaks).

It constantly hit speeds of around 8Mbit/s to 9Mbit/s. For a kind of balance, and fun, I also tried out the XT HSPA+ stick using the speed test on Vodafone's site (which uses the same OOKLA test software as Speedtest.net, but presumably a server at Vodafone; Speedtest.net's Auckland server is at WorldXChange):

That actually yielded an even faster result, topping 14Mbit/s:

 

At home in Mt Eden, where I've always found cellular reception volcanically challenged, things were not quite so flying:

The next day, still at Mt Eden, it was faster, topping 6Mbit/s at one point (my DSL landline, by contrast, usually tops out around 7-8Mbit/s off-peak):

Driving to Sandringham, I got no HSPA+ signal.

Moving on to St Lukes, I was back in range, and once again throttling along: 

Next I went to Mt Albert, and parked just beside an XT cell tower. They're the ones that look like this:

(Incidentally, I'm no radio transmission expert but I must say the tall trees around this Mt Albert tower, snapped on my iPhone, don't seem 100% ideal.)

I thought things might go off the scale at this point. After all, a big factor in mobile speed is how close you are to the nearest cellsite (along with more general factors such as quality of backhaul, and network congestion). It did not go off the scale. But, relatively speaking, it was still stonking:

At Auckland Airport, I again topped 10Mbit/s.

Right now, in the Wellington CBD, I've had one burst over 5Mbit/s, but in general I'm clocking between 3Mbit/s and 4Mbit/s. Ping times (or lag) always a weak point for wireless and not flash for HSPA+ in Auckland, are dreadful down this way. But over all it's still pretty keen:

I'll be running some more Wellington tests today, and around the place over the next couple of weeks, so check back in.

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Guess what? XT’s upgrade rocks
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