US Data Services Are Awful
Following in the footsteps of a similar test in Cannes last month (see Wireless Nets Suck, Says Expert), Agilent is running data transfer tests on the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) 2000 1xRTT networks being operated by Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) and Verizon Wireless, and the general packet radio service (GPRS) networks being offered by AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE) and T-Mobile USA here at the show. Agilent's verdict: The data services on these networks need a serious amount of work.
The issue, according to Rice Williams, wireless network test division marketing manager at Agilent, is that carrier engineers aren't used to combining radio and IP networks in the way they now must, in order to create and manage "always-on" wireless data networks.
This is a big problem for the carriers, explains Rice. "IP is not one of their core competencies," he says.
Sadly, Agilent won't reveal which network is the absolute worst, even after many deep and probing questions from Unstrung (oh, alright... we offered them $20...).
Pundits may have expected CDMA 1xRTT networks to handle data better than GPRS networks. After all, they do offer faster data transfer rates -- around 40-50 kbit/s compared to the 20 kbit/s or so offered on GPRS.
However, Rafael Andrade, senior RF engineer for Agilent says that's only part of the picture. Once they start transmitting the data, the CDMA networks are faster, but first a session has to be set up between the network and the device, and that can add significantly to the amount of time a user waits to view a Webpage or download email.
At the show, Andrade had recorded session setup times of up to 50 seconds (!) before devices started to transmit data.
At the moment, users just can't expect to get the kind of quality of service they do on voice calls with data, Andrade reckons [ed. note: and let's face it, voice can be pretty ropey at times]. "It depends on so many different factors: what city you're in, how close you are to the transmitter… it's really not predictable.".
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung