As explained yesterday, I’m trialing Hong Kong CSL’s LTE network with a ZTE dongle and a loaner laptop. I decided to test out the network in a stationary/nomadic setting, and a fully mobile setting.
Here’s how that went.
The obvious place to start was the ferry service between Central and Discovery Bay, not least since that route already has a Wi-Fi service courtesy of the ferry company and PCCW, which means I had something to compare LTE with. The Wi-Fi on that ferry route is free, but dropouts are common and the log-in server capricious.
LTE is an improvement in terms of logging on, but not much else. Over three trips, I tried several video sites including YouTube, BBC World, The Daily Show and our very own Telecom Channel, and I got a whole lot of buffering messages, even when the connection manager indicated I was on the LTE network (as opposed to DC-HSPA+, normal HSPA+ or UMTS) will full bars.
Site access was also excruciatingly slow at times, particularly the BBC web site, which also had a tendency to crash the Internet Explorer browser. Signal strength also varied on occasion - during the third trip, the signal dropped completely during the last ten minutes and never returned.
To be fair, the waters between Hong Kong Island and Lantau aren’t exactly heavy-data-usage areas. But regular ferry-goers will tell you that wireless broadband is a welcome way to kill time, which is why the Discovery Bay ferry company sprung for Wi-Fi, so it does matter how LTE fares in the same situation, especially given its “connect anywhere” pitch.
That said, a test on the Airport Xpress train to Chek Lap Kok airport was a much better experience overall. I had full LTE the whole trip, and webpage loading was quite fast, although I still got a few buffering messages with the videos.
These tests were fairly straightforward – sit in a coffee shop or on a public bench and surf away. And the results were better - most of the time.
Tung Chung (a village on Lantau island near the airport) offered the best experience. I spent an hour watching several HD movie trailers at the same time and encountered no problems. It was a similar story in Central district and East Hong Kong Island, though here I got a few buffering circles and, in one case, a “No Service” message.
Which brings us to the shopping mall in West Kowloon, which was pretty bad. The signal kept fluctuating between DC, HSPA+ and UMTS, and dropped out entirely four times while trying to watch a four-minute video. Thinking a reboot was in order, I quit the connection manager and couldn’t get the dongle to restart again.
Whether that’s the fault of the network, the dongle, the connection manager or the laptop is difficult to say. Considering I was in a food court next to an ice-skating rink, it could well be related to the indoor coverage issues that come with the 2.1/.2.6 GHz band.
But from a point-of-view of a user who doesn't know the first thing about RF propagation, all of that would be irrelevant. Bottom line: I couldn’t get a stable connection.
Tomorrow: the thrilling conclusion!