The need for speed 4(G, that is)

For the past month I’ve been using Vodafone’s 4G network in Auckland and recording speed tests around the city – 27 in total.

Partly I’ve been doing this for the greater good – it’s an ongoing test of the service and the results might be of interest – but partly I’ve also been doing it for the “ZOMG do you see how fast that goes?” fun of it.

And it is fast. My best result was 88.69Mbit/s down and 47.22Mbit/s up on April 4 outside SPQR on Ponsonby Road at midday.

That’s pretty outstanding (seeing the result made the Irish waiter say something Gaelic) and I have to admit my eyes bugged out of my head. Speeds like that have been the purview of point to point fibre until now – having that speed available on a handset is just astonishing.

But that’s the peak – at its worst I hit 3.30/1.39 a few days earlier, again in Ponsonby. Typically, though, I see something in the 20-25Mbit/s range, which is not half bad for real world use.

Two things have become apparent, however. Firstly, the network footprint is still rather small – sitting at Depot on Federal Street this morning (an area I’d assumed would be soaking in LTE) I got only 3G (not even HSPA) which is quite a surprise.

Secondly, it’s foolishly easy to chew through your data.

I have a plan that gives me 500MB/month and because I whined like a jet engine to the call centre I got an extra 1GB added on for free (no, that makes no sense to me either). I’ve blown through that, and through the 500MB bump pack I bought and now, with four days left, I have no data. The call centre again has come to my rescue (Vodafone’s iPhone app doesn’t let you buy data directly – you have to go to the website which wouldn’t let me buy any ring in, which worked a treat but seems so very 1973) and now that I’ve conducted my 27 tests, I’ll resist the urge to try any more. I’ll stick to email, calendar and Twitter from now on.

But if we’re to really embrace this whole mobile broadband revolution – and the StatsNZ Household use of ICT survey suggests we really are – we’re going to need more data. I’d start with 3GB and look for 5GB and 10GB packs in a hurry.

Telecom is about to launch its own 4G service and 2Degrees is testing its own capability in this area – with any luck competition will kick in at that point and we’ll see what the service really can do.

The Household Use survey makes for very interesting reading. We’re taking to online shopping like ducks to water (yet we’re also told roughly 30% of New Zealand businesses don’t have a website) and if you’re waiting for the smartphone revolution to arrive, you’ve already missed it.

Smartphone use is up 26% since the 2009 survey and ¼ of all individuals have a smart mobile device. Mobile use has increased hugely – 55% of recent internet users connected via a mobile device at a time when the use of a desktop computer is in terminal decline.

There are still some hold outs who don’t have an internet connection – but only one in five households. Rural has picked up hugely, but there are still a (thankfully declining) minority who see no value in having an internet connection. But while that group is declining, the “costs are too high” group is increasing, something which suggests to me another case of the digital divide and something that needs to be addressed.