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Keep up: why upload speeds are the forgotten part of the broadband equation

By October 2, 2013Guest blog

benny_har-evenLater this month, MEF is hosting a panel session at Broadband World Forum 2013, the world’s largest Broadband event, revealing some of the mobile trends & insights uncovered by the 3rd annual MEF Global Consumer Survey, and featuring survey partners KPMG and On Device Research. In this week’s guest post, Benny Har-Even, Senior Content Producer for the Broadband World and LTE World  series, discusses mobile and broadband data speeds, and the often neglected, but all important, upload speed.

While most of us are now more than comfortable with operating in a mobile world, even the non- technical understand that a wireless connection is never quite as good as a fixed line. It’s what I like to call, received wisdom.

Except it’s wrong.

Thanks to EE, I’ve recently made the jump from 3G (so last decade) to LTE, (or 4G as everybody has insisted inaccurately calling it, though it’s not, but that’s for another day). A quick speed test on my EE-powered iPhone 5 gives me a ping of 53ms, download speeds of 23.02Mbps and an upload speed of 17.95Mbps. (By way of comparison I turned off LTE on the iPhone and got 49/2.18Mbps/2.65Mbps respectively. Eurgh).

Last night a similar speed test on my home broadband gave me a ping of 19ms, 29.82Mbps on the download and 2.75Mbps on the upload. This was on a Virgin Media cable connection that is nominally 60Mbps. At peak times, that download speed is pretty much halved, or sometimes ever more so – the inevitable consequence of when marketing triumphing over sensible capacity planning.


However, it’s still fast enough for me to get by if being able to comfortably stream Super HD content from Netflix can be considered ‘getting by’. Let’s spare a thought for those who can’t get anywhere near 30Mbps – let alone double or triple that.

But it’s not the download speed that concerns me – it’s the upload speed. The fact that my mobile phone can now upload at speeds that are six times faster than my fixed line connection is, when you think about it, actually quite remarkable. In fact, with LTE, your mobile handset or dongle connected PC is now better connected than many fixed lines. And that’s important.

As we move ever closer to a cloud-based world we are sending ever more content upwards as well as pulling it down. Uploading a bunch of pictures to Facebook? Emailing a large presentation to a client? Sending video to a server? A 1Gb connection on the downlink won’t help you if your uplink isn’t also up to scratch.

Of course in the UK on fibre connections from incumbent BT or other providers using its network, the standard upload speed is up to 20Mbps. But that’s only in line with LTE – not faster. You could also argue that many of the uploading tasks that consumers are doing are directly from mobile devices, and that a better upload speed is therefore more necessary on your phone than on your fixed line. But when you consider that cable provider Virgin Media offers an upload speed of just five per cent of its download speed on all but its top-tier package, it’s not unreasonable to feel that it’s short-changing its customers.

LTE then has thrown down the gauntlet to the fixed line guys, and it won’t make happy reading for the networks in terms of reducing CAPEX. If they’re going to ‘keep up’, to coin a popular marketing slogan, they’re going to have to upgrade their networks, or face losing customers to the cable free world of LTE.

bb-world-series-2013-logo_aBenny Har-Even Is Senior Content Producer for the LTE World Series & Broadband World Series – Follow him on Twitter.

The Broadband World Forum is the world’s largest Broadband event, attracting 8,000 decision-makers from across the globe to hear over 350+ visionary speakers.

MEF members receive a 20% discount on all delegate passes, visit the MEF Website for details. MEF’s workshop on the 23rd is FREE to attend.