Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Could LTE kill DSL in rural America?


With an average speed between 12 and 18 mbps, I hypothesized during the initial launch of LTE that this technology could be used to replace home internet for some users. When I learned about the 5GB cap on most LTE devices, I didn’t put another thought towards it for quite some time. Then, earlier this week as Verizon announced all of the new areas where LTE was being deployed, I remembered a use case that would still make this point valid. By 2014, Verizon plans to have LTE deployed across the entirety of their 3G network. This includes a  significant consumer group that, while they may not be power internet users, would certainly appreciate the burst in speed. Rural America is plagued with a lack of high-speed services like Verizon’s FIOS, Comcast Xfinity, RoadRunner, and more. If, and do I mean if, DSL is available in those areas, it’s typically less than 4Mbps on average. When LTE becomes available in those areas, will consumers make the switch?
To test this, I took Verizon Wireless’ Novatel LTE MiFi unit, and used it for one week. This unit has a capacity of five devices that it will issue IP addresses to, so I needed to slim down my daily drivers a bit. For the purpose of this exercise, I used my Cr-48 ChromeBook, my Compaq Desktop, my Xbox 360, Tivo, and my wife’s laptop. I turned off my FiOS Router, and set out to see how long I could go on just 5GB, and whether or not LTE was truly fast enough to power all five of these devices. According to the US Census Bureau, the average family is three people, so five devices should be plenty for the average, not super techy, home.

Maintaining a stable 15Mbps download and 3.5Mbps upload any time I checked, I was able to browse, watch shows on Hulu, and play a little Black Ops all at the same time, with no apparent lag. After an hour, I decided to take a look at my data usage, and realized that I was already approaching 800MB of usage. Another ten minutes of testing showed that Xbox Live was the real data hog here, and since I had already finished my game I powered the Xbox down. By the end of the day, I had consumed 912MB of data. Not great, considering I only had 5GB to spend in a given month. The next couple of days did not present an opportunity to hop back on Black Ops, so my data usage was much lower. By the end of the third day, I had consumed 1.3GB of data and by the end of the week I had used up 2.2GB of data. So, while my normal browsing and Tivo watching might be able to squeeze under 5GB, there’s no way an avid Xbox Live gamer would survive on such a ration.
Now I wanted to see exactly how hard I could pull on this network. My Airport Extreme supports bridging, making it very easy to bypass that 5 device limit, and simply pass the internet from my MiFi to my router, and it’s 24 internet connected devices. This includes 6 smartphones, 3 laptops, my desktop, Tivo, Xbox, Wii, Windows Tablet, Xoom, iPad, Google TV, 2 Nintendo DSi’s, Chumby, 2 printers, a Zune and an iPod touch. Working down from that list, by the time I had reached the iPad the network has essentially crawled to a stop, pulling 900Kbps down and 120Bbps up. While there’s no way this LTE mifi unit could power my entire house, it does show some incredible flexibility when you really try to stress it out.
As cool as that experiment was, remember that my original idea was for rural America. My setup is a little atypical in those regions, due largely to the lack of services that can power such a setup. However, there’s definitely a use case here for someone who only has a couple of devices and browses for an hour or so a day, giving them the ability to have real broadband speeds in areas where those speeds (and hard lines) do not exist. Provided Verizon is really able to get LTE to those ares over the next year, this could be a real opportunity for consumers.

Source : www.geek.com

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