Rant: Phones are fast enough, the networks aren't.
Saturday, September 29, 2012

Disclaimer: This post is written according the the telcos and plans in Singapore. It may not and probably won't apply to other countries. 

Recently I realized that most of the phones are really fast. Going above 1GHz, having 2 or 4 cores, 5 even. Is there any phone functions that require so much processing power? Very unlikely.

But the cellular network is lagging behind. Especially in Singapore. 4G networks are only just being rolled out, with only 1 provider, Singtel, having it available right now and only covering about 50% of this small little nation. Starhub and M1 should be introducing their own 4G networks somewhere at the end of this year.

Alright so what's the difference between 4G, 3G or HSPA(sometimes referred to as 3.5G) that you've heard about.
To sum it up, speed.

3G minimum 2mbit/s (stationary)
HSPA up to 21mbit/s
4G up to 75mbit/s

These are just in theory. You will never hit those speeds and typically you would get less than half the theoretical speed. Of course, marketers are smart enough these days to not impose false hopes on consumers and give more realistic speeds to expect.

With HSPA you get up to 6.6mbit/s (advertised), I did managed to hit a 5mbit/s before so it's pretty accurate.
And with 4G you can get up to 12mbit/s (advertised). Sadly, I don't have a device or plan that could allow me to test it out yet. It's kind of the next big thing that isn't really being pushed as much as it should've been.

Also, one important thing to note is that 4G is also referred to as LTE (Long Term Evolution). Basically it's just a standard they've created that allows them to build upon it in the future, so your 4G (LTE) will just keep getting faster and faster.

Why the mess of names? Thanks to all the fucking marketing, that's why. They rush to get technologies out before they are matured, or rebranding it so that it sounds like it's something new and special. Which is why there is 3G, 3.5G and 3.75G. They are similar in many ways, but they do not meet the requirements of a 4G network. So instead of giving users faster 3G networks, they simply invent out a new name for it and brand it something else, oh... those clever bastards.

Enough about the technical bullshit, the fact is, Singapore's cellular networks are simply not up to par. Especially when we compare with other countries that have >150% of our speed. Which is why we spend most of the time looking at spinning circles when we load up Facebook.

I own a Samsung Galaxy S2, which was released on April 2011. It has a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and everything about the phone just works wonderfully. It might be the fastest phone when it was released, but practically any mid-ranged phone you get off the market at the moment probably has the same amount of power as the S2. As long as you bother changing the software on your phone to something like Cyanogenmod, your phone would be running circles around the daily tasks.

Thing is, other than games, all the extra power is probably going to be wasted. It's like, do you need to save that 0.2 seconds opening up your SMSes? It's nice, but it's really not necessary.

This is why for normal consumers, you really don't need to care about the little details anymore. Just pick a decent mid-range phone that has the design you want, and complain the fuck out of your provider until they decide to upgrade the network nationwide.

We are simply too used to the fast, reponsive wifi we get these days. The way I see it, there are absolutely nothing wrong with the phones we have these days. The internet on the phone is just too slow. #firstworldproblems

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