Everything's Relative, Especially Wireless Broadband Speeds

Swedish wireless companies, in an effort to satisfy the nation’s consumer ombudsman, have come up with what they’re hoping is a better representation of wireless broadband speeds, what they’ve dubbed the “practical maximum speed.” In most countries, network operators advertise their wireless speeds based on the maximum levels achieved in the lab, which is the equivalent of advertising the maximum amount of weight lost by people shown in weight-loss commercials as typical. But in reality, wireless broadband speeds depend on several constantly changing variables, such as how far a person is from a tower and how many people are on the network at any point in time.

So to help consumers get a better sense of what they’re really buying, earlier this month, the ombudsman, Gunnar Larsson, said that Tele2, Telenor, Telia and 3 shouldn’t be allowed to advertise theoretical maximum speeds. Using the maximum speeds for an HSPA network, for example, means operators are advertising speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps down. But I’m not convinced the Swedish operators are being all that transparent with their ombudsman, either, for they have decided that the “practical maximum speed” of an HSPA network is some 6 Mbps.

Since that struck me as still too high, I reached out to Peter Rysavy, a wireless analyst at Rysavy Research. In a report issued last year, he put typical speeds for an HSPA network at a range of 700 kbps to 1.7 Mbps (the chart and accompanying footnotes can be found on page 37 and 38). Notably for those excited about LTE, his estimates for LTE are 10 Mbps on the downlink and 5 Mbps on the uplink.