Network Notes From Beijing: Fast To The West, Slow To The East, Mobile is Tricky

When it come to networking equipment in fixed and wireless networks, Chinese companies are selling their equipment to the rest of the world and their components can be found in many western countries. When it comes to network operators in their own country and providing connectivity to destinations outside the country, however, there is quite some room for improvement yet.

After a week in Beijing I have to say it was a bit of a sobering network experience. Both in the hotel and during the conference I attended in a different place, connectivity to Europe was good in early morning hours and my VPN tunnel to Germany established just fine. Over time, the connection got slower and slower and at some point, packet loss was so high that the VPN broke down and would not re-establish again. Even wihtout the VPN, data exchange was hardly possible. In other words, the link to Europe was hopelessly underdimensioned. It wasn't the local connectivity, however, as destinations in the US remained usable. When establishing a VPN tunnel to the US and going to Europe from there, the network remained quite usable. Interesting.

My biggest disappointment were the mobile networks in Beijing, however. There is only one (China Unicom) offering WCDMA 3G and due to a configuration error on the network side I could not use it for data. China Mobile is the other carrier usable with GSM/UMTS devices but only with 2G EDGE. Here, however, Internet connectivity to Europe was very slow to unusable, with page load times of even compressed pages by Opera Mini stretching to 30 seconds or more or timing out altogether. Again probably not due to local speeds but due to an underdimensioned backhaul towards Europe.

And finally, mobile voice calls between China and Europe usually had a very bad voice quality and I and other people had voice calls suddenly interrupted in the middle of the call and were connected to a confused Chinese speaker. During a call? Never had that before. Also, incoming calls usually had random calling IDs and type of numbers, national, international, sometimes even three leading 0's. Amazing that companies dare to ask for 3 Euros a minute for such service.

Not that this has to be that way. In other countries in Asia, such problems are non existent. I don't want to be negative here, but there is a lot of room for improvement here. Time to play catch-up in Beijing!