UMTS threatens WiFi Hotspots

In the past
years, the media has speculated just how much of a threat WiFi hotspots are to
UMTS. Well, from what I have experienced over the last few months, it is just
the opposite. Equipped with a prepaid SIM card from Italian Operator WIND and a monthly data volume of several
hundred megabytes for 20 Euros a month, I’ve travelled through many countries
in the past months.

Many hotels
offer WiFi coverage and if one is really lucky, there is even coverage in the
room. However, in the days and age of UMTS, I am showing it the cold shoulder. As
the price is right, I prefer to use a UMTS network, even if it is somewhat
slower than a WiFi hotspot connected to the Internet via a DSL connection. I
don’t have to worry about whether I have coverage in the room, no need to select
the network, no fumbling with the credit card for buying expensive online time,
and most of all: coverage directly in the room or wherever else I am when I
need to communicate instead being forced to sit in a noisy and crowded hotel
lobby.

As even
Internet telephony via UMTS and Skype works flawlessly, the final advantage of
Wifi hotspots is gone. At the airport I also don’t bother to search for a WiFi
hotspot, UMTS or EDGE (in case my Italian SIM card can’t roam to a UMTS network
in the country) is where I go. Great! 

Well, the
only place where the WiFi hotspot still has an advantage is in the plane at
30.000 ft 😉

Mobile Surfing with Firefox

With the right SIM card and a good wireless
data tariff such as the prepaid offer of the Italian operator WIND, the mobile
traveler can surf the net these days anytime and anywhere. Costs are moderate
and a GPRS/EDGE or UMTS networks can be found almost everywhere. While the web
surfing experience with UMTS is close to that of DSL, EDGE and especially GPRS
can not quite compete with a high speed fixed Internet access. For such slower
connections, a number of manual Firefox browser settings can make a big
difference.

A very effective method to speed-up the web
browser is ‘Pipelining’. If enabled, several embedded elements of a web page,
such as pictures, are requested at once after opening a TCP stream instead of being
requested one after another. This decreases download times when using GPRS or
EDGE, as fewer TCP connections are required to download a web page. Fewer TCP
connections reduce the effect of longer round trip delay times of GPRS and EDGE
compared to fixed line Internet connections. More detailed background
information can be found here:
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/netlib/http/pipelining-faq.html


Activation of Pipelining in Firefox:

  • By entering ‘about:config’ in the URL line, the browser presents  a list of all configuration parameters.
  • Basic
    pipelining is activated by double-clicking on the „network.http.pipelining
    parameter and setting the value to TRUE.
  • I achieved
    the best pipelining effect by setting the value of the „network.http.pipelining.maxrequests“ parameter 8 again by double clicking
    on the parameter name.
  • The
    broweser should then be restarted to make sure the changes take effect.
  • Additional
    information on the process can be found here:
    http://www.port80software.com/200ok/archive/2004/12/30/231.aspx


The Result:

A test with
an extensive web page and previously deleted browser cache at first shows no
difference in the time it takes to show the first part of web page. A big
difference can be observed, however, in the time it takes to load the complete
page. Instead of 60 seconds for loading the complete web page, the modified
browser settings decreased the required time to 40 seconds!