When discussing High Speed Pack Uplink Access (HSUPA), or E-DCH, to use the correct term, the major focus usually lies on the improved uplink speeds. Seldom is it mentioned, however, that E-DCH also improves the latency, i.e. the time it takes for an IP packet to be sent to a server and a response packet to arrive back to the source. But is this relevant in practice?
So far, I used an HSDPA 3.6 non E-DCH capable 3G stick and my round trip delay times (RTD) to a number of web sites I visit most were around 110 milliseconds. Over a DSL link, the same sites can be reached with an RTD of around 45 ms. In other words, a difference of 55 ms. In practice this can be felt especially during web browsing, as web sites take a bit longer to load over 3G compared to a DSL link with a similar bandwidth. Not that this is a showstopper but it can definitely be felt.
A few days ago, I ran some tests with a Cat 8 HSDPA + HSUPA 3G stick and was quite surprised that the RTD times to those web sites were just around 65 ms. In other words, that's only 20 ms more compared to DSL. The difference to the HSDPA only 3G stick are quite remarkable. I compared backwards and forwards with my DSL line but I couldn't "feel" the difference anymore. Stunning!
The one thing E-DCH does not do away with, however, are the delays incurred when radio states are switched. The 300 ms or so delay when switching between a full DCH and the less power and resource intensive FACH are still there. In practice, however, background traffic from applications such as my Instant Messengers usually keep the link in DCH state so I rarely come into contact with it anyway.