GSM Data Comparison: EDGE vs 3G vs WiFi

10 Comments

BlackBerry 2G vs 3G

Over the past year, mobile data has become a topic in the mainstream media. The stories are mostly about AT&T’s network growing pains, how iPhone users are overtaxing the networks and are experiencing greatly reduced bandwidth as a result.

Carriers love talking about bandwidth. It seems to be the only thing that matters in terms of mobile data. When the iPhone 3G came out, the dumbed-down line that was used to describe the difference between 2G and 3G in Apple’s marketing was that 3G is “twice as fast”.

I have been trying to make heads or tails of this whole data speed thing for quite some time. I had noticed in more than a few instances that 2G is just as fast, and sometimes faster than 3G. With all this marketing about how much faster 3G is, I set out to do a few tests of my own to determine if 3G is a must-have, or if carriers are trying to oversell the technology as a giant leap when it’s really just an incremental step.

WiFi vs 3G vs EDGE (2.75G)

These tests were each conducted 10 times each, with the top score and the bottom score omitted from the average time. Tests were performed at off-prime time hours to get the speediest results. I am using a Rogers BlackBerry Bold 9000 with only the testing apps running.

For years BlackBerry has been engineered from the ground up to deal with small amounts of compressed and encrypted data. Let’s see how all the GSM connection types deal with the most important part of communicating with a BlackBerry: messaging.

BlackBerry Messenger
2.75G 1.2 seconds
3G 2.3 seconds
WiFi 1.0 seconds

Email
2.75G 3.1 seconds
3G 3.6 seconds
WiFi 2.1 seconds

PIN Messages
2.75G 3.9 seconds
3G 5.1 seconds
WiFi 2.2 seconds

BlackBerry has recently experienced a huge consumer boom. Let’s compare the different connection modes with some typical consumer uses: browsing and rich media.

YouTube: History of Dance – time until video begins streaming
2.75G 9 seconds
3G 4 seconds
WiFi 3 seconds

Web Browsing: BlackBerryCool Store – total load time
2.75G 10 seconds
3G 7 seconds
WiFi 6 seconds

Radio Tuning – time until audio begins streaming
2.75G 22.0 seconds
3G 9.0 seconds
WiFi 2.0 seconds

Results Breakdown

Wifi:

  • Best speed results in both low latency and high bandwidth scenarios
  • Additional Battery drain
  • Works while you are on a call

2.75G (EDGE):

  • Best carrier-connection scores for messages, and IM.
  • does not work while you are on a call, messages and IMs poll after your call is over.
  • Draws slightly less power than 3G.

3G:

  • Best score for rich media, transfers.
  • Works while you’re on a call.
  • Marginally slower than 2G for small amounts of data.

Conclusions

High bandwidth is great for transferring large files and streaming music and video. Low latency is great for messaging and other applications that need to access smaller chunks of information, but is only 15% faster on a very small time frame (an average of a half-second faster).

Leave us a comment and let us know your opinion. What do you prefer, low-latency or high bandwidth activities? Does wireless connectivity play a big role in your choosing of a new device?

  • Ryan

    Thanks for this, Matt. I’m glad to see someone is looking at this topic objectively.

    Some things to consider:
    – I attended a RIM event once and recall that, “it take 10X the power to transmit data as it does to receive the same amount.”

    – I’m not positive, but I suspect RIM compresses all the data transmitted via the NOC. BlackBerry’s are quite possible more efficient (less data transmitted/received over-the-air) for the same resource than a non-BlackBerry device.

    – What is your source for for WiFi causing additional battery-drain than cellular? I think in both cases your distance to the Access Point or Cell Tower will play a role in how much power is consumed to transmit, and how much and frequently you transmit in that mode. Is a relatively close WiFi AP better for battery-life than a relatively distant EDGE or 3G cell tower?

    – Currently, I’m running my 9700 on EDGE with WiFi and am enjoying the best battery life I have ever seen on a BlackBerry. I have WiFi at work and home (where I spend a majority of my time), and only turn 3G on when I tether or need the speed and don’t have WiFi.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for this, Matt. I’m glad to see someone is looking at this topic objectively.

    Some things to consider:
    – I attended a RIM event once and recall that, “it take 10X the power to transmit data as it does to receive the same amount.”

    – I’m not positive, but I suspect RIM compresses all the data transmitted via the NOC. BlackBerry’s are quite possible more efficient (less data transmitted/received over-the-air) for the same resource than a non-BlackBerry device.

    – What is your source for for WiFi causing additional battery-drain than cellular? I think in both cases your distance to the Access Point or Cell Tower will play a role in how much power is consumed to transmit, and how much and frequently you transmit in that mode. Is a relatively close WiFi AP better for battery-life than a relatively distant EDGE or 3G cell tower?

    – Currently, I’m running my 9700 on EDGE with WiFi and am enjoying the best battery life I have ever seen on a BlackBerry. I have WiFi at work and home (where I spend a majority of my time), and only turn 3G on when I tether or need the speed and don’t have WiFi.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for this, Matt. I’m glad to see someone is looking at this topic objectively.

    Some things to consider:
    – I attended a RIM event once and recall that, “it take 10X the power to transmit data as it does to receive the same amount.”

    – I’m not positive, but I suspect RIM compresses all the data transmitted via the NOC. BlackBerry’s are quite possible more efficient (less data transmitted/received over-the-air) for the same resource than a non-BlackBerry device.

    – What is your source for for WiFi causing additional battery-drain than cellular? I think in both cases your distance to the Access Point or Cell Tower will play a role in how much power is consumed to transmit, and how much and frequently you transmit in that mode. Is a relatively close WiFi AP better for battery-life than a relatively distant EDGE or 3G cell tower?

    – Currently, I’m running my 9700 on EDGE with WiFi and am enjoying the best battery life I have ever seen on a BlackBerry. I have WiFi at work and home (where I spend a majority of my time), and only turn 3G on when I tether or need the speed and don’t have WiFi.

  • Kyle Kemper

    Great post Matt.

    Fascinating results!

    I’ve noticed that, regardless of radio type, browsing is much faster when an APN in configured as the RIM BIS network can have slow transfer rates at times. Using direct TCP (the result of a configured APN) significantly improves speed but, i believe, it’s not as secure.

    I’ve also found 3G is faster when actually transferring >100kb of data.

    For me, Network choice depends on personal requirements. For large bandwidth requirements 3G and Wifi are the way to go. Eg. If i’m sending a multimedia email with 5mb’s of attachments 3G can handle this task in about about a minute, wifi, 15 seconds, 2G 5 min+.

    Also if receiving emails with multiple attachments then higher bandwidth results in faster downloads….duh.

    3G also wins the tethering battle…you can’t tether on EDGE.

    @Ryan WIFI is a separate component that when running drains additional battery on top of cellular…not positive though.

  • Kyle Kemper

    Great post Matt.

    Fascinating results!

    I’ve noticed that, regardless of radio type, browsing is much faster when an APN in configured as the RIM BIS network can have slow transfer rates at times. Using direct TCP (the result of a configured APN) significantly improves speed but, i believe, it’s not as secure.

    I’ve also found 3G is faster when actually transferring >100kb of data.

    For me, Network choice depends on personal requirements. For large bandwidth requirements 3G and Wifi are the way to go. Eg. If i’m sending a multimedia email with 5mb’s of attachments 3G can handle this task in about about a minute, wifi, 15 seconds, 2G 5 min+.

    Also if receiving emails with multiple attachments then higher bandwidth results in faster downloads….duh.

    3G also wins the tethering battle…you can’t tether on EDGE.

    @Ryan WIFI is a separate component that when running drains additional battery on top of cellular…not positive though.

  • Cadillac Cowboy

    Gee you guys must have it hard over there, ’cause those 3G/3.5G speeds are PATHETIC!

    Our primary network theoretically supports 20Mbps, and around 13Mbps in “real world” circumstances – the fastest cellular network in the world (it was even in last year’s Guinness Book of World Records)!

    Admittedly, one needs a compatible device to FULLY benefit from such speeds, but because there’s so much bandwidth available, lower-speed devices typically get pretty close to their THEORETICAL maximum speeds (ie. the speeds quoted by the manufacturer that are normally unrealistic in “real world” circumstances)!

  • Cadillac Cowboy

    Gee you guys must have it hard over there, ’cause those 3G/3.5G speeds are PATHETIC!

    Our primary network theoretically supports 20Mbps, and around 13Mbps in “real world” circumstances – the fastest cellular network in the world (it was even in last year’s Guinness Book of World Records)!

    Admittedly, one needs a compatible device to FULLY benefit from such speeds, but because there’s so much bandwidth available, lower-speed devices typically get pretty close to their THEORETICAL maximum speeds (ie. the speeds quoted by the manufacturer that are normally unrealistic in “real world” circumstances)!

  • Cadillac Cowboy

    Gee you guys must have it hard over there, ’cause those 3G/3.5G speeds are PATHETIC!

    Our primary network theoretically supports 20Mbps, and around 13Mbps in “real world” circumstances – the fastest cellular network in the world (it was even in last year’s Guinness Book of World Records)!

    Admittedly, one needs a compatible device to FULLY benefit from such speeds, but because there’s so much bandwidth available, lower-speed devices typically get pretty close to their THEORETICAL maximum speeds (ie. the speeds quoted by the manufacturer that are normally unrealistic in “real world” circumstances)!

  • Pau

    why is there wifi in BBM? BBM doesnt work with Wifi

  • Ducati99987

     Should i buy a phone on edge or 3g?