Category Archives: Internet

Dialog 4G LTE or LankaBell 4G, which one should I go for?


I have been using the Dialog 4G LTE for a while.  After a very bitter start with Dialog, things settled down and overall the general performance has been good (in case you want to have a good read, check my rather lengthy review at  https://rayazmuthalif.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/dialog-lte-decent-package-but-speeds-may-vary/).  The recent doubling of capacity (albeit only in the night time) to compete with a similar offer made initially by SLT, meant you definitely got a lot of data for your buck compared to before.

However i realized my anytime 25GB on Dialog was exhausted by the mid of a month, and i decided to give a shot at Lanka Bell 4G.  Lanka Bell was offering the same 25+25GB offer, but for almost 33% less monthly charges.

Service Levels

The sales guy made the connection quickly but proved to be not very “truthful” which complicated my service activation.

With LankaBell too I had a very very rocky start, and I found that the LankaBell support is a lot more “government like” compared to Dialog

The device refused to work after it delivered stating that it was configured to work, and complications on billing vs service address meant LankaBell refused to send me service team.

After almost a week the device was activated without any service staff needing to come over, baffling how they managed to do that!

Device

Lanka Bell provides a Huawei device (Model B310s). The device comes with two VERY large antennas, i am not sure if they give two antennas because they have their stations far and wide.  I was able to get TWO bars without any antennas, and get 3 bars (full strength) with just one antenna in my area.  The large antenna really does make the device rather massive in foot print.

Update (May 2016): My sister got a new Dialog 4G connection, and they too are now providing the B310S model.

Perceptions – Lanka Bell 4G

The immediate perception was that the Lanka Bell 4G speeds was slower, and patchy. When i say patchy, i get regular periods where the internet just stops working for a few minutes, and then gets going on its own.

In addition page loads for general browsing are rather slow, slower than what i get on the 3.5G dongle.

Speed Benchmarking

So I decided to test it out using a network speed test site, and the test scenarios was,

  1. I ran two rounds of test, back to back
  2. I avoided the famous speedtest.net app, because i felt that the telcos had learnt to “tweak” to make their connections faster for this test
  3. I used the same device and browser (Nexus 5X, Chrome browser)
  4. I ran it at nearly the same time, one after one
  5. Tested it over Wi-Fi, both 4G devices were kept just 2 feet away from my phone

Peak time speeds

These were run during an overcast day, and during peak hours.  The key is the average performance, as the max performance is “burst” of high speed that maybe only relevant for bragging rights.

During peak hours Dialog 4G trounces LankaBell 4G by 9 times higher download speeds, and 6 times higher upload speeds.

Performance

LankaBell 4G Dialog 4G comparison

Off Peak speeds

Decided to test it at a more off peak time, where the user base is less, and here on a sunny Saturday morning at around 7am.

During off peak hours Dialog 4G offered 9 times the download performance, but the upload performance was only 2.5 times faster than LankaBell 4G

the key change being that the LankaBell upload average speeds increasing.  In both cases we see a remarkable improvement in speeds compared to peak hours.

offpeak-performance

LankaBell 4G Dialog 4G comparison - Off Peak

Update (May 2016):  Another observation was that the LankaBell connection did not allow too many connections to be made. For example if my Torrent downloader was set to a maximum of 10 parallel threads for a download, I could not do anything else (e.g. Browse, check mail, etc).  Comparatively with Dialog I could have 3 torrent (30 connections) + do what I want and still have enough connections.

Stability

Another key question of any connection is how available and stable it is.  I have now have the LankaBell connection for over 2 weeks, and it has been extremely disappointing.  I have called support once because I could not get connectivity (the device could not get a connection from the tower) and it was resolved without a visit by the tech team, indicating an issue with the stations. The same has appeared 2-3 times since then.

Comparatively Dialog has performed better, but in one occasion (where the LankaBell also refused to get connection) I had no connection and it was on a very overcast day.  Surprisingly Dialog 4G on the phone was working, so the problem was with the 4G fixed line network.

Conclusion

So if you want speed Dialog aces it, and Dialog also definitely have a much more stable connection.  However the LankaBell connection is still fast enough for most general users, and with the 33% monthly lower cost, LankaBell 4G can be a viable alternative (and possibly the best cost per GB for general users).

Advice to LankaBell : Improve your call center and sales teams, they need to be more polite and supportive… you don’t have the performance, so you got to cover it up with service to grow your client base, and ensure you retain the clients you gain.  And work on the reliability of your network, the patchy performance is terribly irritating.

Sadly a saving of 33% monthly may not be worthwhile compared to the loss in performance, unstable performance and unstable network.  Dialog and SLT seem to be much better propositions currently for fixed line fast data at the moment…

Your speeds may differ based on location and density of consumers. So feel free to share your views

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Huawei E5576 portable 4G LTE mifi hotspot router


The E5576 is among the first Cat4 LTE mifi hotspot routers in the market.  The key change from Cat3 LTE is that possible download speeds have increased from 100Mbps to 150Mbps, while the uploads speeds still remain at 50Mbps.  However mobile phones have now moved beyond Cat4 in recent versions, but you will be hard pressed to the stated speeds with you Telco’s.

 Design

The E5576 compared to some 3.75G Huawei portable hotspots is chunky with a 15.5mm thickness, and a 150g weight, and the reason seems to be the inclusion of a higher capacity battery and improved Wi-Fi range.  However it’s still very pocket-able and compact in size.

IMG_20140824_090520

The device has a standard SIM (mini SIM) slot, where most phones are now featuring micro SIM or nano SIM’s.  However there are many markets where the Mini SIM is still in use, and Wifi hotspots and dongles tend to retain the mini SIM due to this reason.

IMG_20140824_090620

The device also has a built-in MicroSD slot, which can be access by the connecting devices similar to a NAS storage device, the storage is directly accessible if you connect it to a computer.

The device has a WPS button in case you don’t want the hassle of entering a key, or sharing the key but want to provide access to your hotspot to another person.

IMG_20140824_090727

The device features a 1.45″ OLED display that provides information of the mode of connectivity, signal strength, the battery percentage, if you have any sms messages, the network connected to, the time and most importantly the amount of data you have downloaded since the device was switched on.  The display is very easy to see both in dark and very brightly lit areas.

IMG_20140824_080119_crop

The device also has a port to connect an external antenna if you want to boost the signal strength.

Performance

The important thing is how does it perform.  Testing any device for Internet speeds is not easy, as the only way is to compare against another device at similar time periods on the same network.  What I have done is tested the device in several locations using my telco provider who states their max speeds in burst mode is 40Mbps.

The other impact on this would be the inherent latency and overheads of accessing the device over Wi-Fi and the performance of your Wi-Fi hardware in the phone / desktop you are using to access this device.  To see if this has an impact I have also tried access the device from two devices at similar times.

I have also used several test products, as they all have different test modes.  My preferred tool is speedof.me (a web site) as unlike other tools it does not only test for ultimate speeds but speeds across different file sizes (we don’t always download large chunks of files).   My telco provider Dialog Telcom in Sri Lanka, is considered the fastest in our country, but the speeds offered by them tops at 40Mbps in short bursts, and hence is no way going to top the max capabilities of this device.  The highlight the device provides more than adequate performance, and i have achieved sustain speeds in the 10-15Mbps region when downloading from youtube using JDownloader with 10 streams per download.

Tool

Download Average

Download Max

Upload Average

Upload Max

Latency

Speedof.me

10.2 Mbps

10.2 Mbps

2.8 Mbps

2.9 Mbps

166ms

Speedof.me

18.8 Mbps

19.3 Mbps

12.5 Mbps

12.5 Mbps

158ms

Win8 Network Speed Test Metro app

7.8 Mbps

47.1 Mbps

0.8 Mbps

1.2 Mbps

200ms

SpeedTest.net

24 Mbps

13.1 Mbps

260ms

Battery Performance

The device features a 3000mAh battery. The battery is not removable, which is a strange decision for such a device.  Most personal Wi-Fi hotspots states usage times of 4-6 hours, the E5576 official brags a 10 hour usage time, though I feel this might be 3G usage periods as 4G can be very demanding.

My test for battery usage may  not be very formal, but compared to my last personal hotspot I had (the Huawei R201), the E5576 definitely has superior battery performance even when used in battery drenching 4G LTE mode.  So from an end user perspective I feel over 4-6 hours is easily possible from this device in 4G mode.  However for non-continuous use where i had many devices connecting it for occasional use, i could take it for a day easily.

No fancy capabilities such as wireless charging as yet on this device 🙂 The device comes with a micro USB to USB cable and charger, though you can charge the device through your PC USB port (which is what most would end up doing).

Variants

The E5776 comes in different flavors, as telco’s require some frequencies to be limited so that the device does not work across all regions.  Its important that you see what your local frequencies are, and also the locations you might travel if you are globe trotter and buy the best possible model if you are buying it privately.  The model I have with me is the E5776s-32 which is pure FDD LTE model, while other models also support TDD LTE modes, but have only limited FDD LTE band support.  Further this model is the only one which has a wide 3G band coverage, making it ideal for the globe trotter types.

The information on the  models I have extracted from http://www.store4g.com/huawei-e5776/

Huawei E5776s-22 4G LTE-TDD 2600MHz
4G LTE-FDD 800/1800/2600MHz
3G HSDPA/HSUPA/UMTS/WCDMA 900/2100Mhz
2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900/1800 MHz
Huawei E5776s-32 4G LTE CAT4 FDD 800/900/1800/2100/2600MHz (LTE B1 B3 B7 B8 B20)
3G HSDPA/HSUPA/UMTS/WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100 MHz (WCDMA B1 B2 B5 B8)
2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz
Huawei E5776s-860 4G LTE-TDD 2300/2600MHz
4G LTE-FDD 2600MHz
3G TD-SCDMA/WCDMA 900/2100mhz
2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900/1800 MHz
Huawei E5776s-601 4G LTE-TDD 2300MHz
4G LTE-FDD 1800/2600MHz
3G TD-SCDMA/WCDMA 900/2100mhz
2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900/1800 MHz
Huawei E5776s-922 4G LTE-TDD 2300/2600MHz
4G LTE-FDD 1800/2600MHz
3G TD-SCDMA/WCDMA 900/2100mhz

 Administration

The application provides the usual web interface, and the default access URL is 192.168.1.1, with admin/admin being the username and password combination.

The application also has a MOBILE version which is a made to fit for a small screen, but note that the mobile interface has only basic features, and remember to load the desktop mode in your mobile device or you may feel that some options are missing in the device!  For instance you can’t define a new provider (VPN) from the default mobile view.

Areas of improvement

One area I feel that the unit has stepped back is the way you switch off the device.  If you hold the power button for about 5 secs the device shuts down the Wi-Fi, but continues to have its data connection on.  If you press the power button for around 10 secs the device shuts down.

It would have been more preferable if the unit had a separate button to switch Wi-Fi hotspot off, and kept the power button for the purpose of powering off only.  Pressing the power button for 10-secs is a bit tedious, but it has the advantage that the device is unlikely to get switched off by mistake when in a bag or pocket.

Conclusion

If you have a decent data package on your phone, and you do not mind using your phone as a hotspot, such a device is likely to be meaningless.   However if you have several devices, and want to share your data, this is an ideal device, and provides excellent performance, good battery life.  The Huawei range has a much better reputation for reliability over ZTE based on local experiences.

Dialog Fixed Line LTE, good on the pocket, blazing speeds


Dialog Telecom made its name when it took the the risky decision (at that time) to go GSM when then the leading provider CellTel had practically monopoly on the mobile market with CDMA but was late taking up GSM by which time Dialog has successfully grabbed the market share.

The battle after GSM was the constant battle of who has the highest data network, with 3G then 3.5G and then 3.75G, so on, and now it has boiled down to who will be first with LTE as the earlier option of WiMAX has lost ground.   All in all whichever version of 3G you had and marketing teams blazed away on high theoretical download speeds, real download speeds did not differ that greatly and depended heavily on the coverage and area data consumption.

While the question who trialed LTE first may vary, Dialog has managed to get the LTE network coverage started in two cities, and offers as a fixed line service offering than a mobile offering presently.

However the fixed line offering is provided via a rather portable LTE Broadband router, which requires power but is still handy enough to be carried with you.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): Dialog have now launched a mobile LTE service but the coverage still limited understandably.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Dialog mobile LTE coverage seems to extending to main cities rapidly and the speeds are remarkably different.   Interestingly the upgrade to LTE has also enable high 3.75G capabilities as well, but when compared to LTE there is no comparison on the speeds of downloads.

I just got the package more with the interest to see how LTE speeds were, as my recent trial of Etisalat with their fast internet highlighted that without the dual-band modem their speeds were still around the 3mbps at max, even though the modem could do 7.2mbps, only slightly faster than the performance i used to get from a Dialog 3.5G connection.  However owners with dual-band dongles have indicated they get very good download speeds.

Dialog had marketed the LTE as 4mbps upload/download, but my test easily surpassed this and the real world performance was also far better, however i am sure once there are more clients Dialog may put a cap on the speeds to the stated SLA.

However if we were to compare LTE performance of Dialog against what is on offer in other markets, the story is different and here i think its the bandwidth limitations main links the cause of the stifling.

Device

The device provided by Dialog is the Huawei LTE CPE B593u-91 model.  A bit more study highlighted that the B593 comes in many flavors (Refer http://www.4gltemall.com/huawei-b593-4g-lte-cpe-industrial-wireless-router.html) and has been available since 2011, and was also regarded as the first commercial LTE TDD wireless router.  The version provided by Dialog only supports two LTE frequencies. CameraZOOM-20130305215552315small

The device is a fully featured broadband router, including 4 LAN ports and 2 x USB 2.0 ports (one on the side, one on the back).  Supposedly the USB ports which supports external storage devices.  Hence you can create yourself a file server with ease by hooking a flash drive or external portable hard disk. Based on setting on the USB management option, the only system file formats supported are NTFS and FAT32, which should serve well with Windows folks, but users with other operating systems may not be as happy! The FTP server feature can then use the connected drive as the store for the FTP file server.

CameraZOOM-20130305215715851 - Copysmall

The device also support Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, though the test show the LAN cable performance to be better than the Wi-Fi performance.

CameraZOOM-20130305215727342small_cropCameraZOOM-20130305215742947small_cropDialog sales chaps indicated the device only works with 4G / LTE networks, however based on the specifications the device should also connect to 3G networks in the event there is no LTE network, however i need to test this 🙂 I did check the admin web app, and yet the modem does have Auto, LTE only, WCDMA only and GSM only.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): I took the device on an outstation visit and my fears were confirmed, Dialog has locked the device to be used only within an area and it does not work in other areas.  In addition the device does not connect to 3G networks even if you give the correct APN.  A bit more research also indicated that this maybe a firmware block on the device requested by the telco.

UPDATE (20-May-2013):  The dialog support team to dropped by said once the customer base for fixed LTE goes to 5000 they intend to merge the LTE and 3G directories, which will allow LTE connections to fall back to 3G when there is a problem with LTE.   How this will impact the performance of the connection will only be known when this merge is done.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): The Huawei LTE CPE B593u-91 only supports fixed line LTE protocol, hence it cannot work with the Mobile LTE or mobile 3G channels.  Hence the story of LTE falling back to 3G by the Dialog staff is “horse-shit” to say the least.. integrity.. yeah :D.  However on the mobile LTE front this is definitely applicable and relevant as your LTE device can fall back to 3G and 2G.

The device back panel can also support two external antennas, these are not provided with the package by Dialog, however extra antenna(s) can help improve signal strength, and would have a nice inclusion.

Speedtest.net Results

I tested using the telecom operators favorite tool Speedtest.net, however making a few changes to avoid getting two fake results.  Remember when testing make sure its not connecting to the local server, as in this case you are testing the local network speeds as opposed to your real download speeds.

Speedtest.net usually connects to a server close by and for Sri Lanka it usually picks up Chennai.

I also picked up a server from US, NY and tested it to see if the speeds were different and there was a market different.

Interesting that on all test the upload speeds were great, when in my usual 3G broadband the results were other way around.

One improvement compared to 3G over a dongle was that the LTE network was maintaining its speed even if many downloads were coming down, however this could also be due to the fact that the LTE network is still to get loaded, and there would be ample bandwidth to go around the current customers.

Machine/Device Browser Connection From Connecting Server Download Mbps Upload Mbps
Windows 8 Desktop Chrome Network cable Dialog Telecom PLC Chennai 6.42 5.35
Windows 8 Desktop Chrome Network cable Dialog Telecom PLC New York City 3.71 5.22
Google Nexus 4 Speedtest Android App Wi-Fi Dialog Telecom PLC Chennai 2.69 8.86

Interestingly the actual download speeds with multiple connections per downloads were even greater.  For example when i had JDownloader setup with 10 connections and used a mediafire and a YouTube links to test, I was getting a solid 2-2.5MBps.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): Something i missed earlier and have to update is that this is 2.5MBps, not Mbps, which means the speeds are 8x times that in the normal way we indicate speeds.  So this means the speeds were 16-20Mbps, which is blinding fast compared to all other forms of connections.  I used an unlocked dongle on my 3G dongle, and found that even on normal 3G Dialog can go up to 12-13Mbps when i was running similar downloads at around 4-6AM in the morning, this is without LTE mind you, however unlike the LTE line these speeds drop to 2-3Mbps at best during the day.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Dialog Mobile LTE seems to be even faster, specially during off peak times when you can speeds surpassing 30-40Mbps.  Not sure if the performance of fixed line LTE has also improved, any subscribers who can confirm this?

UPDATE (Oct-2016): Now that i am back with an Dialog 4G LTE as my primary data connection, the speeds are still very good, though it drops during the day.  While not as fast as the the initial days, the speeds in the night are pretty darn good in my area.

Problems

UPDATE (20-May-2013): The speeds and all have gone shattering, when i noticed a regular drop in connection, and loss in speeds. I have been in contact with the dialog support team, and they had guys come over and check the device, and they seem unable to diagnose the problem, which is scary indicating that they may not be still experienced in troubleshooting the problem. The pages timeout, and i am unable to download anything more than than 10-15MB at a time, before the connection drop and i have keep starting the download again and again.  In addition the connection is so patchy i can’t get mail to go through using my official exchange in web mode.  The final word is that they need to check the entire set of stations to identify the cause, as there are other in the area also reporting similar problems.

Word of advice if you have this problem, and the support team says test a YouTube HD video, and it works it does not mean much.  YouTube is a streaming protocol, and hence small breaks are acceptable, but this will not work for a direct download. Test it by downloading multiple files (large ones) at the same time, that will show the problem.

UPDATE(27-May-2013): The tech team who were scheduled to come to sort my connection problem called into say they were unable to come because i have not paid the bill. This was shocking since i had already paid in excess through the Dialog web portal.  Checked with the customer service and they confirmed the payment had not been reflected, but they re-enabled my connection since i had my payment reference no.  Later on they called to say that they had a problem with LTE payments online, it seems the system accepts the payment but is not sending the payee detail and account no 🙂 so they had not been able to find who had made the payment.  I have been requested to call once i pay online (if i am brave to do this thing again!) to the support line to make sure the payment has gone through.   Disappointing.

UPDATE (22-Jun-2013): After almost 4 weeks of trouble with the connection  the problem of disconnection noticed was never resolved.  Requests to support through formal channels (call center + web portal) were not followed up by Dialog, and even personal contacts within Dialog said the LTE team seem not interested in sorting a paying client’s problem.  I resorted to sending mails to the CEO of Dialog, who was prompt, but it seems the CEO’s involvement too failed to get things working, as only a second mail saying the team never followed up go them activated.  However rather than solving the problem the Dialog LTE team resorted to stating false information and statements, which got me totally wired up, and current blinding speed or not, I disconnected the line since the service levels were atrocious and more so what’s the use of of a super fast line if you can’t download anything!  Lesson is that the LTE team is nowhere upto Dialog’s support levels in other services they offer, and the technical team not in sync / incapable of resolving issues seemingly the root cause of this.  What i did not know was that the initial payment of Rs 7500 is for the connection, and on disconnection the device is taken back by Dialog.

UPDATE (Oct-2016):  Competition has reduced the initial payment cost significantly, and if you are a wise buyer, wait for the regular deals where they offer the packages without any connection fee, or a 50% discount.  A common benefit by all the vendors is that as long as you have the connection, any issues with the device, they will replace your device free of charge.  Not sure how it works with SLT but this applies to Dialog and Lanka Bell to my knowledge.  I have experienced this with Dialog, where the support engineer replaced the device which had the downloading issue, and gave me a complete new device.

Being a person up for experiments i will not put down the Fixed LTE offering by Dialog due to my problem, however I do hope that Dialog LTE team will pick their standards and also work out how to resolve technical problems if the fixed line LTE is to grow.  If they are struggling now, one can only imagine the standards if the number of connections grows.

Conclusion

Though LTE offers stunning speeds elsewhere in the world, in Sri Lanka with limited bandwidth outside the country, high speed internet will be limited by this fact more than anything else, but we have seen improvement and hopefully this will accelerate as the need for faster and greater data with the smart phone, phablet and tablet era grows.

The LTE performance of Dialog current is far beyond its stated SLA, and that’s very good news, and possibly the fastest you can get from all current connections including dual-carrier HSPA+.

UPDATE (31-May-2013): However in case you do have issues with the reliability of the connection, don’t expect it to be sorted out fast for now, as Dialog tech teams seem to in a “learning mode”, and in my case even after 14+ days the problems have yet to be resolved.

The juicy part of the deal is that it offers 25GB (and it also has a 60GB variant) of high speed internet for the price where most HSPA+ and DC-HSPA+ offers from competitors as well as Dialogs own offer for less than 15GB.

UPDATE (20-May-2013): In addition the price per additional MB and the bulk price for additional high speed 10GB is very attractive.

The downside is that router is not portable and does not work beyond set regions, and also is not capable of switching to 3G when LTE is not

UPDATE (20-May-2013):  The portability maybe eliminated when the 3G and LTE directories are merged, but until this is tested i can’t be sure.

While i continue my rotation with vendors to evaluate their Internet offerings, I hope the speed increase also comes with more data, something we are still not seeing Sri Lanka. While speeds are important but with speed your data cap vanishes in no time (e.g. with the new LTE speeds i did 7GB in just 2 hrs), and in an era where all we talk is HD this and HD that, the time has come where Telco’s have to increase their data cap on packages, but that would be asking too much from money conscious telco’s (a trait that is common across all telco’s it seems)!

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Seems like SLT has acted in response to the complaints by subscribers and increased the data quota, however i am sure SLT has to do it since their download rates are far slower than the LTE solutions.  But one area the SLT ADSL still remains a firm favorite is among the online gaming community where the ping rate matters, and here the wired connection is unmatchable is what my gaming friends confer.

UPDATE (Oct-2016) : A bit late in updating this, but dialog also matched the SLT offer by doubling the data, by adding the same day capacity to the night quota.  So if you were on the 25GB package, you now get 50GB.  The boost in capacity is definitely good for the customers, as with the solid speeds offered by Dialog 4G LTE, you are going to bust through your cap quite quickly.