The people at Smartone-Vodafone took notice of my post, iPhones on Two Different 3G Networks Compared, and wanted to get to the bottom of the cause of the slow down in their HSDPA network; especially compared to 3 HK (another Hong Kong mobile carrier).
They began by acknowledging my claims, although they did not do what most other companies do; especially those in Asia, and simply claims that they had different results and dismissed our findings. Contrary they responded by saying they did not have the same results as we did and wanted to look into why we have different results.
They investigated the un-scientific test results I made and several days later contacted me to arrange a joint test. Today was the joint test at the three locations I had previously tested their HSDPA (3G) network:
- IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
- Areas near Wanchai Computer Center, Wanchai, Hong Kong
- Starbucks, Hysan Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
In this joint speed test we used the following web sites as benchmarks:
- Smartone-Vodafone http://www.smartone-vodafone.com
- Cathay Pacific Airways (International version) http://www.cathaypacific.com
- Yahoo Hong Kong http://hk.yahoo.com
- Three Hong Kong http://three.com.hk
The latter web site was only suggested by me just before we began the test. We also use the iPhone applications SpeedTest to test the raw speed of the network with as little variable as possible.
The iPhone used for the test were:
- iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.0.1 with a Smartone-Vodafone SIM card
- iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.0.1 with a 3 HK SIM card
- iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.1 with a Smartone-Vodafone SIM card
The latter is my daily iPhone with many of my 9 pages of applications installed. To offer a test closer to real life use, my iPhone also has Application Notifications turned on for 7 application and Push Notification for GMail and Google Calendar. The 2 iPhone 3G were restored to factory condition before the test.
Before each test of the above web sites we cleared the cache and cookies for Safari each time. At each of the locations we tested the set of web sites and run the SpeedTest application at least twice for each locations.
The results were not spectacular, but in most cases Smartone-Vodafone did load the set of web sites quicker compared to the iPhone on the 3 HK network. In cases where the iPhone with the 3 HK SIM was faster it only beat the iPhone 3G on the Smartone-Vodafone network by only a fraction of a second. In all cases, the iPhone 3G on the 3 HK network did not beat my iPhone 3GS on the Smartone-Vodafone network.
One thing I did notice from the results of SpeedTest is that the 3 HK network appears to be very inconsistent, where its latency, downlink and uplink speeds go up and down at the same location. Contrary the Smartone-Vodafone network was very consistent between tests at the same location.
As soon as Smartone-Vodafone send me the data from our joint test I will share them here with you all.
In conclusion, it appears that the mobile carriers in Hong Kong are making rapid improvements to their respective networks. These results may be evident to us end-users very soon. I believe no one should sign a new contract with any Hong Kong carriers at the moment. We should wait at least 2 months and see what each of them offer before we make that kind of commitment. If you are not in a position to wait, try to choose the cheapest and shortest contract commitment possible for now, and ask if you can upgrade to a new (higher priced) package during the life of the contract; be sure to have that in writing before you sign.
[Update October 8, 2009]
Today a friend on Twitter shared with me that 3 HK is testing a much quicker HSDPA network connection in the MTR (Hong Kong subway) stations. He was able to achieve a sustainable downlink of 4Mbps between Wong Tai Sin and Diamond Hill stations. At one point he was able to achieve a downlink of 6Mbps at the Sham Shui Po station.
This is very significant since in the past when I tested Smartone-Vodafone’s and 3 HK’s HSDPA networks I was never able to receive a downlink speed past 2.6Mbps. This includes the times when I was doing the joint testing with representatives from Smartone-Vodafone.
I hope that this is an indication that HSPA (3G) network speeds will improve in Hong Kong very soon.
Note: the aforementioned downlink speeds of 4Mbps and 6Mbps were not speeds achieved within a browser.