A number of sources have reported this week about a recent performance measurement study that puts 3G downlink speeds of Verizon and AT&T in a region between 245 – 645 kbit/s and uplink speeds between 106 – 305 kbit/s. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the study to look at the details but official publications usually do not downplay performance. Having said this, these numbers are really puzzling to me because they are so far away from what I experience in 3G networks all over Europe.
Here are a number of specific examples: In Germany, I consistently get 3 MBit/s and beyond in several networks if coverage is good, no matter the location and time of day. Peak speeds are beyond 6 Mbit/s with my HSDPA Category 8 stick. And with HSUPA my uplink speeds are also well over 300 kbit/s. And this is by far not an exception, I've had similar experiences in other countries as well including Austria, where mobile broadband Internet access is very cheap and usage is accordingly.
And I am not alone with such numbers. Once a year, German telecommunication magazine “Connect” performs a test drive through all of Germany to measure voice quality in wireless networks, call drop rates and data throughput speeds. And they don't do it from a stationary location but from a driving car. And even under those conditions, they get average (!) 3G speeds in all German HSPA enabled networks of beyond 2 Mbit/s.
So why are the numbers so low in the US? It's not the technology and it can't be the iPhone either because almost everyone these days has one over here as well. So whether it's cell sizes that are to big, not enough carriers used, non-optimized radio engineering, insufficient backhaul capacity, core network congestion, etc., etc. it's difficult to tell from the outside. But there is ample proof that it can be done differently while still making a profit.