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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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October 20, 2008 11:21 AM

Readers chime in shortcomings of 3G service on phones, laptop cards ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's piece on my underwhelming experience on a 3G network service with the Google-powered G1 phone apparently struck a chord with others frustrated by pokey 3G speeds.

Maybe we'll have to wait for the next generation to finally love mobile browsing -- perhaps on a device using the sort of hardware Intel showed today, with longer battery life and 3.5G support, or the next generation of Google Android devices such as the mid-2009 offerings from Motorola.

Any other thoughts on what it's like to use 3G today?

A sample of what I've heard so far from real-world users:

From a reader in Sammamish:

"I thought I was the only one who didn't 'get' the thrill of waiting absurd lengths of time for a dictionary definition or movie time, much less a flight schedule. The WORST experience is trying to read a newspaper online mobile, where every headline is a round trip donkey ride through tar sands to the article and back. Does any unmedicated person have that kind of patience?

Anyway, thanks for writing what was apparently not supposed to be said: The Internet via mobile is still much longer on promise than delivery."

From a reader in Maple Valley:

Oh my gosh, thank you for saying what you did today ... This stuff is fine if you're using WAP sites or low graphic sites but I have found 3G to be horribly disappointing. I have a BlackBerry Curve 8310 (weekdays) and a first gen iPhone (weekends) and I don't even care about 3G. Personally, as exciting as LTE and WiMax could be, I still don't plan to surf the Web much on my phone until I can see something a lot closer to DSL speeds consistently on my phone.

I heard from several readers in Texas, including one in Forth Worth who recommends AT&T's 3G laptop cards:

"While I am not trying for home broadband speed records, I can close and update service calls with ease, everywhere I go. I even get coverage inside buildings and server rooms.

My co-horts that use their Treos can not update their calls in a lot of areas.

I have no problem with the coverage here. I would highly recommend it to anyone that needs to use a laptop for work."

Another cheer for 3G laptop cards came from a reader in Seattle, who had a better experience connecting from a bus with his Sprint service:

"Most of my usage is send/receive email but that is often with large files attached. It typically "feels" like around 75% of the typical broadband performance found in the average wi-fi hotspot. A couple of weeks ago on a whim, since I was stuck on a Sound Transit bus between Bellevue and Seattle on the eve of the 10/8 Presidential debate, I thought I would try to see if I could watch the streaming webcast while on the bus using my 3G card. I started at the Bellevue transit center on 108th traveling across I-90 to the downtown Seattle transit tunnel. Much to my surprise, the video/audio performance was close to seamless up until the time when the bus entered the transit tunnel in Seattle. There were only 2 or 3 brief dropouts along the way which quickly resynchronized."

I'm also a fan of laptop cards. I wonder if they use a different radio, or get different treatment on networks?

UPDATE: Great comment answers my question about laptop cards, thanks much:

"I've had relatively good experiences with 3G on my iPhone. It's not blazing fast like the commercials show, but it's way faster than Edge. Most of the time, I don't feel that I'm waiting inordinately longer than I should for things to load.

The main problem is that it's highly variable, and the signal strength is only one of many factors (not the most important one). Just seeing maximum bars doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get maximum speed. Also, the browser on a phone is much slower than on a computer (slower CPU, slower memory, less memory, etc.), so even with equivalent connectivity, a phone will render web pages more slowly. That's one reason that things feel faster on laptop cards -- the browsers are faster. If you connect your laptop via 3G through your iPhone (if you were lucky enough to grab the app for that before it was removed from the App Store, and are willing to violate your terms of service), you'll notice that web pages load much faster. Same radio, same network treatment, different browser environment.

I'll also add that the voice quality on 3G is dramatically better for me than it ever was on any other type of network."

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