Article | 17 January 2023

Let's talk (real) speeds

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Written by
Adhi Theawarajan, Product Manager Malaysia

From the boardroom to the family living room, the primary discussion around connectivity is the headline speed of the connection. Spoiler alert: it’s the wrong discussion to have.

Why? Because that headline figure always includes the caveat “up to”. An enticing 100MB/s rating is a peak figure … and peak’s no good if the variability swings to sub-1MB/s at a critical point of the day. Which happens more often than you think.

This is important, because we’ve seen too many of our customers get burned before they meet us. They’ll see a high headline figure on a SIM plan from a phone shop, and wonder if the prices we charge for business-capable wireless LTE/5G are really worth it. Our answer? Try the phone shop SIM for a while … then let’s talk again. (Yes, we’re that confident.)

This is because the presence of a 5G network doesn’t guarantee your connection will get top-spec 5G speeds. In fact, it may not even be 5G. Conversely, being 4G-only doesn’t necessarily slow you down. (Some of the highest speeds we’ve achieved for wireless customers have been in 4G-only areas.) What should really matter for wireless broadband for your business is how it performs over extended periods, as availability, reliability, and your own usage patterns fluctuate – minute by minute, day by day, month on month.

The presence of a 5G network doesn’t guarantee your connection will get top-spec 5G speeds. In fact, it may not even be 5G.

Now here’s the good news. In years of planning and installing thousands of wireless business broadband services for customers worldwide, we’ve seen just how many bottlenecks and blockages exist to slow your wireless connectivity to a crawl – and we’ve developed the tricks and tactics to eliminate them.

It’s not always about the network provider or the model of router. Many of the friction factors throttling your productivity aren’t obvious – so in this article, we’re going to explore them (including some of the real numbers that indicate the actual performance of wireless business broadband.) And discover why buyers should not just ask for “5G speeds” … but about speeds in the real world.

Dealing with a dynamic environment

Any IT manager will tell you that if your technological infrastructure is humming away quietly without changing, it’s not a reason for cheer. Rather, it’s cause for worry. If your kids were playing boisterously outside, and everything suddenly goes quiet, you’d be concerned, wouldn’t you?

In actual use, devices, data flows, and broadband connections aren’t expected to remain static. Success is about accepting that environments are noisy, fuzzy, and dynamic – and those ups-and-downs, sudden bursts, and suspicious quiet times need to be managed.

So don’t assume that a fixed installation (your building or asset) means bandwidth availability will be constant at all times. The performance of a distant cell tower, the positioning of an antenna, and the human traffic of people moving around your site all matter.

When it comes to business broadband, the right approach involves making intelligent decisions about balancing capacity and availability with supply and demand, taking smart decisions about backup and failover options, and many other factors. And those decisions aren’t the same for everyone. The needs of an ocean liner carrying 5,000 passengers are very different from an offshore oil rig with a hundred people. Both capacities and usage profiles are wildly different, too: people at work need consistent upload and download speeds as they exchange data with cloud apps, while passengers on holiday are download-biased, just wanting to stream the latest from Netflix.

Looking at data from the last two years across European countries, Blue Wireless has delivered average up+down speeds of 11-59Mbps and 32-225Mbps. In the USA, the averages are 17/62Mbps (but at peak moments, download speeds reached to over 200!).

So if we’re talking speeds, that’s friction factor #1: the dynamism of the environment. Bandwidth isn’t the story. Instead, look at how your provider manages the connection. A modern IoT-savvy factory may have hundreds of robots moving around and thousands of connected devices; you need a connection that’ll deal with that bustling scene, not the scene at 8am on a Sunday.

Unwrapping coverage: no guarantee of blanket

“5G speeds” may be a common claim, but what does that really mean? Frequently, it means you’re in a 5G coverage area. But the part of the radio spectrum 5G uses is much higher frequency than 4G – which means the radio waves carrying your data have a much harder time passing through walls, windows, or even fresh air.

The busy island of Singapore (Blue Wireless’s home base) provides an example. It’s got the densest 5G you’ll find anywhere. But because of its tall buildings and crowded neighbourhoods, actual speeds can fall below 10MB/s – which in high-tech Singapore is slow as syrup.

We’ve solved this (in Singapore and elsewhere) by artful antenna positioning, intelligent router placement, and getting the lines-of-sight that maximise performance – and that often means 4G rather than 5G. (Of course, Blue Wireless does install 5G connections but only in the right circumstances. A consistent 50MB/s over 4G is better than a patchy 25MB/s over 5G.)

So whatever you do, remember 5G might be a friction factor – not an advantage.

A matter of proximity

You don’t need to be in a mobile coverage area to get mobile connectivity. In fact, that’s our whole business model at Blue Wireless: intelligent use of powerful antennas and smart routers to deliver wireless data in out-of-coverage locations. (Some of them very out-of-coverage. Take fish farms in the Straits of Malacca and offshore oil rigs.)

As anyone who’s ever twiddled with a radio knows, a small change in orientation makes a big difference to connection quality (This is also why we tend to suggest a site survey in these areas.)

An example. One customer in Asia had no option but to install indoors – usually suboptimal. But moving the equipment from the first level to a higher floor made a huge difference. While in other cases, simply moving the router to a non-reflective area of a window, so it could “see” its connected antenna clearly, produced more consistent bandwidth in the working day.

So take a look at the physical infrastructure surrounding you. Because buildings, hills, roads, and vehicles can create bottlenecks for your data. That’s friction factor #3.

Calling for backup: the non-negotiability of failover

Even the exact cell tower you’re pointing your antenna at matters. You might think you’ve hit the jackpot with one cell tower giving you 50MB/s plus. But at Blue Wireless, we’d go Hmmmm. Because access via a single connection point is asking for trouble.

Rember: dynamic environment. Network providers change priorities. Cell towers go down for maintenance. Capacity goes down when usage goes up. That’s why we manage this part of complexity by including a minimum of two connection points to a mobile network … and often more. (For details of how we work this magic, book a visit to one of our Customer Experience Centres.)

Having this backup is called “failover”. Switching from primary to backup takes a fraction of a second; many users won’t even notice the interruption. And it means your business connectivity continues, even if one network provider is having a really, really bad day. And there’s another advantage: this second connection also provides backup capacity. So if your primary link starts redlining, the second link can create breathing room – or even be dedicated to a specific mission-critical application, so a crowded connection doesn’t create problems for your business as a whole.

Not having failover options is friction factor #4. And it can bring your business to a screeching halt.

Conclusion: Less hastle, more speed! The reality of 5G for business

As our friction factors show, smart pre-planning delivers better connectivity later. Because the fastest, most consistent connections aren’t necessarily 5G, aren’t always available in coverage areas, and depend hugely on how your equipment is set up in the first place.

That’s what gets us out of bed every day at Blue Wireless – and we’d like to help you out with your wireless business broadband, too.

Talk to
Adhi

Adhi Theawarajan, Product Manager

Let's explore together how wireless can meet your connectivity and business requirements.

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