A recent report about the performance of 4G LTE wireless networks between two major U.S. carriers claimed they “offer similar data download, Web browsing speeds” and concluded that the networks were “comparable” pulling down data to a handheld device. While I am not disputing the study or the methodology involved, I’d like to dispel a possible conclusion that might be drawn from the report. That is, that IT can choose any 4G LTE network and get equal performance for the company’s road warriors.
Assuming that the coverage of the 4G LTE carrier is similar, as the report shows, the smartphones used to test the networks dramatically affected the download performance. Some units were much faster than others. If you have standardized on a single device for you company, you obviously need to extensively test it on the competing networks with the applications it will be using before drawing a conclusion about which carrier will meet your performance SLAs. If you let end users choose their own mobile devices, you should be clear to employees that they will not all be seeing the same response times.
Another interesting item from the study is the impact of geography on performance. As noted in previous analyses, cell tower activity is critical to how fast 4G downloads happen. Overburdened towers still perform worse than ones with less traffic. For IT that means to assure mobile workers are getting the response times they need to do their jobs, investigating the capacity levels of towers in the region where employees are likely to be working can be important. For example, if you support auditors who will be holed up in an urban area where your preferred carrier has saturated cell towers outfitting your remote staff with a femtocell might give them the performance they need to do their job.
Despite these cautionary observations, there was one piece of excellent news in the report that affects everyone: compared to 3G networks, the 4G LTE systems were five times faster, averaging more than 10 M/bps on all devices in the test. More impressive, some units achieved a blazingly fast 39.5 M/bps data downloads.
However, there might even be a downside to this bit of good news. Once your end users experience 4G LTE networks as consumers on the latest handsets, it’s unlikely that they will want to go back to a corporate-sanctioned 3G operator. That means IT may need to be ready to move their companies over to 4G sooner than they may have planned.