Last week I did some measurements to get an idea of the time required when switching between different HSPA air interface states. While data is transferred, the mobile is usually in Cell-DCH state on a High Speed Shared Channel. When only little or no data is transferred, the connection transferred to the Forward Access Channel, which is slow but has little overhead for both the network and the mobile device in terms of control measurements and power adjustments commands. If no data is transmitted for a longer duration (e.g. 30 seconds) the connection is put into Idle state. While the IP address is retained, the physical connection between the mobile and the network is severed.
As can be seen in the picture on the left, the round trip time to the first hop in the network of a ping packet is around 100 to 120 milliseconds while the mobile is using a high speed shared channel. While on the slower forward access channel, round trip time increases to 240 to 260 milliseconds. Moving from the high speed shared channel to the forward access channel is relatively quick, it takes around 550 to 600 ms (minus the actual round trip time of the packet itself). Going back to the high speed shared channel takes a little bit more time, around 1000 to 1500 milliseconds.
When using a 3G dongle with a notebook, a connection is rarely set into idle state as there is always one program or another such as an instant messenger, VoIP client, etc., that feels it needs to send a keep alive message to a server in the network before the idle time can expire. Therefore I haven't measured it this time. In the past, I've seen values around 2500 to 2800 milliseconds.
Some say that the effect of this state switching is that web browsing feels a bit more sluggish over HSPA than over a DSL line, which always offers Internet connectivity at full speed without the need of state switching. I use 3G connectivity a lot and quite frankly, while I can feel a difference, it's absolutely no problem to work and live with it.
And here's a quick overview of the test setup: Mobilkom Austria 3.5G HSPA network, a notebook connected via Wi-Fi to a D100 Wi-Fi/3G gateway, connected to a Huawei E220 3G USB stick, HSDPA category 6, no HSUPA.