Tag Archives: LTE

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.

Blackberry Z10 hardware: Not all versions have the same hardware!


While the BB market has been declining rather fast, specially among the enterprise users, I felt i had to try out the Z10 and see what new OS and hardware was capable of, since the Z10 and the new BB10 platform has shown good promise, but to many this maybe a year too late in entering the market.

Hardware

The previous Blackberry units very much like the Nokia smart phones running Symbian and Windows 7.x ran rather outdated hardware due to the fact that the operating systems they ran were not supporting modern multi-core hardware, let alone the capabilities of the single-core hardware.

However with BB10 and the Z10 (and now with the Q10 and Q5) Blackberry like Windows Phone 8 has leveraged far more modern and capable hardware.  The hardware in the Z10 maybe modern, but the Snapdragon S4 Plus now is a mid range processor/GPU in the Android space which are now running powerful quad-core and octa-core units.  While Apple may feature a dual-core processor on their current units, and Apple’s strategy of putting very powerful graphics (which is still a match even for the latest Android units) makes the Apple units more potent than the Z10 hardware.

Yet its unfair to compared a platform by the hardware specification alone, since with WP8 we saw the same hardware provide super smooth performance that an Android device fails to achieved. Similarly the Z10 with the new BB10 platform while having its peculiarities offers great multi-tasking, and smooth functioning, and the web browsing performance is very much in tag with the Android quad-core units. 

Not all hardware is the same, Asia and Middle East phones have older Texas Instrument processor

With BB having only a  limited set of models (but compared to Apple one might say they have a wide variety!) i expected that all Z10 units to be the same with possible differences in the antennas for regional support.  However to my surprise this was not the case.  The antenna support for different 2G/3G and LTE was expected, but what i did not expect was that the actual running hardware to differ.

Seemingly BB decided that LTE was not for the Asia and Middle East market phones, and thus decided to eliminate LTE support on this phone, and also by making this decision opted for a totally different chipset for phones of this market.

Model No Processor and GPU 2G Bands 3G Bands LTE Bands
STL100-1

RFG81UW

Dual-Core TI OMAP 4470 1.5Ghz  + Imagination GPU PowerVR SGX 544

GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900

HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100

Unsupported
STL100-2

RFH121LW

Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 (Krait) + Adreno 225 GPU

Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 850 / 900 / 2100

LTE 3, 7, 8, 20 (800 / 900 / 1800 / 2600)

STL100-3

RFK121LW

Same as STL100-2 Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 800 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100

LTE 2, 5, 4, 17 (700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900)

STL100-3

RFF91LW

Same as STL100-2 Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 800 / 850 / 1900 / 2100

LTE 2, 5, 4, 17 (700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900)

STL100-4

RFA91LW

Same as STL100-2

CDMA 800 / 1900

HSDPA 900 / 2100

LTE Band-13 (LTE 700 MHz )

The key change as you can see with the ST100-1 is that it uses an older TI OMAP processor.   Whilst the processor maybe old, the performance of this processor is still very good but in performance test run by users owning both the models, the browsing performance is significantly different with the Qualcomm S4 Plus unit performing nearly 1.5-2x times better.

The other advantage the Qualcomm unit has is that its made with a new fabrication process (28nm) compared to the TI OMAP unit (45nm) which should mean it should run cooler and possibly have an advantage on the battery usage when on 2G and 3G mode (LTE mode is known to be a power hog).

When you compare the GPU the difference is less obvious as the PowerVR 544 GPU can be more powerful if its the multi-core version (which is what the Apple IPhone uses) compared to the Qualcomm Adreno 225 unit.  However if its a single core PowerVR 544, then the Adreno 225 GPU will be far superior. 

The edge the PowerVR will have is that the older PlayBook device also ran a TI OMAP + PowerVR combination, but with sales bending greater to the Adreno based Z10, will new games be targeting the Qualcomm units?

The impact of this hardware change is also being felt on updates, with the Z10 sales being greater in volume in the US and European markets, the STL 2/3/4 models get more frequent updates than the STL 1. 

With the antenna differences marginal its is very weird why Blackberry opted for a two model approach (and they have done the same with the Q10 as well).

I found an STL100-2 with great difficulty as most phones in my country were STL100-1, or units brought from USA and Canada which meant the LTE would not work (we use LTE 1800Mhz).

Some useful links:

Firmware Upgrades

Make sure you have the correct OS to leverage the hardware and app market

When i got the unit it ran a 10.0.9 version of BB10, and since i did not have LTE compatible SIM i disregarded this to be simply because my SIM not supporting.  However i faced a problem that i could not install Skype (beta) which was released on BB World recently as it required the platform to be 10.1.x. 

I promptly tried the OTA (Over the Air = phone upgrade) which surprisingly said there were no updates.  This worried me, and the initial forums i read said i should update this with a leaked ROM.  I was on the verge of downloading a 920MB size download running 10.1.2xxx when another forum indicated that i should backup my phone,and try the update using BBLink.

The advise was good, as it prompted me with the availability of a new update of the 10.1.x range.  The update was large, around 1GB in download and the phone was updated to 10.1.1720, which was far from the latest but still better than what i had.

The good “side effect” of this update was that it now lists 4G as an option in the connection, even though my SIM is still not an LTE compatible.  It seems BB enables the settings based on the provider, and these updates come along with new firmware.  The evil “side effect”  of this update was a bug where the text message app no longer is able to match SMS received with the contacts which is driving me crazy!

Why Blackberry can’t provide small patches as done by Android, Apple, Microsoft for their platforms is a concern, as downloading 1GB each time to me is crazy! 

Your firmware upgrade depends on your SIM, not where your phone originated from

Many things to learn is what i have gathered with my first time move to a Blackberry devices.  My reading as i got to know the phone also found that your update depends on your SIM on the phone rather than what market your phone was made for.

For example though the phone i got was from European origin, since i have a Dialog SIM from Sri Lanka, the update i get will be based the approved firmware and features for Dialog.  It seems if you have an deactivated SIM, the update will still come based on the provider of the SIM if you are updating via a PC using BBLink.  A workaround suggested for getting updates that are not available from your providers is to get an old SIM from another provider from Europe or US so that you can get new updates faster.

The BB10 Operating System

>coming soon 🙂

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.

Limitations in using Korean carrier smart phones outside Korea


I decided to give a shot at taking on the challenge of buying a Korean carrier smart phone and seeing what would be the limitations and challenges faced when trying to use these phones as everyday phones outside Korea, and if there are any real solutions to overcome these.

The phone i got hold was Samsung SHV-E110S, the LTE variant of the Samsung Galaxy S2 with the Qualcom dual-core processor, and featuring a larger screen than the standard S2.  In addition a colleague of mine has been using the SHV-M250K, this phone is identical to the Galaxy S2 bar the existence of the digital TV antenna.

  1. Phone firmware has to tendency to switch to EDGE more than you can like, as there is no option as you find on the international phones of being able to set if to use GSM only, or WCDMA preferred or WCDMA only.  However for this you can find a solution by using tools such as AnyCut or even Notification toggle and selecting the 4G option, which pops an Android internal setting page that allows you to set this setting.
  2. No combined SMS messages when sending, and limited to 80 characters per SMS.  If you are lucky you will be able to send SMS messages but only limited to 80 characters since the phone has been set to support extended characters for the Korean language, hence 80 characters effectively is equivalent of 160 characters.  However you also don’t have what you take for granted of sending large messages over 80 characters as a combined message, the very moment you type a message over 80 characters it converts the message into a MMS message.   However some custom ROMs have solutions for this limitation.
  3. Unable to send SMS message at all.  For some phones you may not be even able to send any SMS messages, the phone firmware will not take the override SMS gateway given.  Even using Go SMS Pro does not sort this out.
  4. No conference call capability (aka Merge calls).  This was a problem my colleague found, and after reading many a forum it was apparent that you cannot do this on these phones! Though the “Add Call” option exists, once you make the second call the option to merge calls has been replaced by the feature “Record Call”.  In addition on a normal phone selecting “Add Call” allows you to go to the Contact menu, with the Korean phones you only have the list of recent callers to select from.
  5. Lack of Gorilla glass on most of these phones means the glass has a tendency to be easily cracked. Finding replacement glasses for these phones can be extremely difficult and costly on eBay since these phones tend to have a different external case design to accommodate a larger screen area that the international variants.
  6. Not possible to replace the firmware with international phone firmware in most cases, attempting to do so may result in bricking your phone, or having a phone with lots of stability issues.
  7. OTA (Over the Air) updates of firmware is not possible, and you will have to resort to manual update using ODIN or using Custom ROMs. Custom ROMs are not as easy to find or matured as international ROMs since the volume of phones are much less, hence there is less community drive on these particular phones.
  8. Just like the US carrier phones, the Korean phones also do not have no FM radio tuner, a feature that the Asian market users tend to use.
  9. Some phones may not support all the WCDMA and HSPA bands that work in other Asian countries and feature a different technology that is particularly focused for Korea, making these phones perform very poorly in data support outside Korea
  10. Features that we take for granted such as call diverting, etc is omitted on these custom firmwares
  11. The LTE band is not compatible with Sri Lanka telcos.  Dialog, Mobitel use band 3 (LTE 1800) while these phones ate usually LTE 2600, 700.

Based on these using these phones on other markets such as what i tried in Sri Lanka was not convenient for everyday use as the limitation were on very practical and daily applications such as network signals, sending SMSs, making business calls, etc.

However if you want a phone for making calls (without wanting the conference feature), you want to browse, listen to music and watch videos, these phones are excellent as they have the following advantages

  1. Tend to have larger than screen sizes than the global variants
  2. The battery has a larger capacity and you also get a spare battery and external charger, a common bundle when phones are sold in Korea
  3. You get the LTE antenna on these phones, which telco’s in Asia are now starting to trial out these faster networks, making these phones more future ready for blinding fast internet though these phones have an LTE modem and antenna, these most operate in LTE 800 or 2600 which is not compatible with most region.

Dangers of buying used phones originating from the US and Korean market


Apple selling their phones only in a limited set of countries, made the concept of people buying phones from the US market and unlocking them if possible as the only way to get an Apple IPhone.

The trend for Android has been phones from providers such as T-Mobile, AT&T being brought and then being unlocked.  Similarly phones from from Korea has been another major intake in Sri Lanka due to the high number of people going to work there.  Here you find telco’s such as SK and KT telecom.

Many purchase this phones as they are either,

  1. Significantly cheaper than buying an international or local used version of the same phone
  2. Offer a higher configuration than the international or local variant of the same phone
  3. Availability of more models than local model range

The cheaper issue is definitely not the danger, but more so the different in configuration.

Common differences in US/Korean telco phones compared to international or local variants

  1. Very different processor, a key reason being that the LTE versions tend to have a different chipset, mainly due to the reason that the normal units powered by Tegra based processors do not support a LTE modem (Most popular the international S3 had a very powerful Samsung Exynos processor and MALI400MP GPU, the LTE version a much less capable Qualcomm unit coupled to an Adreno GPU.  Most users misunderstood that the higher clocked 1.5Ghz Qualcomm unit was in fact slower than the 1.2Ghz Samsung Exynos)
  2. Larger screen sizes (a popular upgrade in the US market phones, many Galaxy S1 and S2 variants had larger 4.5″ screens, and in some cases 1280×720 screens when the international units were having 800×480 screens)
  3. Large internal configurations (the most well known is the US variant S3 has 2GB RAM, while the international variant only has 1GB, the higher configuration possibly to combat the Apple threat than any other reason)

Problems that users may face when buying such used phones

Regardless of the phone being unlocked there are problems.

  1. Cannot replace the firmware with the international or local firmware version: You will NOT be able flash the phone with the international firmware since the hardware is different.  Even if you do, there are problems that come because of the differences in hardware
  2. Updates can be much slower or not available: Hence unlocked or not you have to wait until the updates are provided for the telco to get your phone updated.  However these devices are still custom made by the manufacture for the specific telco, and will be bundled with customizations requested by the telco including custom applications and updates are going to be much slower than the international version, and in some cases the updates stop (e.g. Many US phones for Android never got updated beyond Android Froyo or Gingerbread while international versions in some cases got ICS or updated variants of Gingerbread featuring newer core apps and tweaked performance, Motorola phones are the biggest offenders here).
  3. Slower performance, and less available memory: Another common issue is the customization done on behalf of the telco’s in many cases slowed down the phone due to bloatware running and many of these apps could not be easily removed unless the phone is rooted, something most users may not end up doing.
  4. Problems using 3G/4G data: Another little understood change is that the 3G and HSDPA network support may differ, as most phones are not true quad-band when sold to specific markets, hence they may work but not as efficiently and reliably as the local or international variants.
  5. Highly used batteries and internal components: Users in these markets would have used these phones WIFI on always, and this would mean the batteries would have had may of their usable recycle times completed, and the internal components having a lot more wear than local phones where WIFI and 3G being fully on is not very common.  while the phone externally will look great, the internals can be in a bad shape, expect higher maintenance costs or failure in units.

So when buying an used phone, check the model carefully.  Check what is different from the international and local variants and see if you are okay with the changes, and understand that the phone may not work properly.

One important check is also to see if the phone model code printed behind the phone and the code in the phone are same.  If they differ, it means the phone has been upgraded by maybe international version, but these phones are sure to give problems.

So sometimes a few bucks more for an used International or local variant may make a lot more sense 🙂

Can’t afford the Galaxy S3, what are my options


Smartphones are pushing the barriers extremely fast as the processor and GPU technology for mobiles keep improving radically, though battery technology still has not shown any great development.

While the current craze for the Galaxy S3 goes on (the HTC One X / S though similar in configuration has sadly lacked the  want in our market here), many will still find the price of the Galaxy S3 daunting, and look below.  Interestingly just below you find several very good phones, and buyers must be aware that latest may not always mean better.  So what can we buy if the Galaxy S3 is too expensive.

HTC One X

Touted as the equivalent of the Galaxy S3, the model has fallen flat on the face since the performance of the Nvidia Quad-core Tegra 3 has not not matched the Samsung unit on the S3, and in some test the Galaxy S3 leaves the One X in its dust.

The One X has one of the best LCD screens though its still not in par with the AMOLED plus screen on the Galaxy S3.  The One X has one of the best lenses an f2.0 but sadly even with that the camera performance has been second to the Galaxy S3, mainly due to the processing aspects of the image, though indoors without a flash it does excel due to the better lens.  The other area has been the much nicer design and far superior build quality of the HTC One X.

However the very poor battery life (hard to get though for one day, seems the supposed 5th core in the Tegra 3 to handle processing while on the standby has not been very effective) has sadly added to the lower popularity of the X.

The recent update to ICS also brought a new issue, and a serious one which is an issue with the WIFI signal strength on some units, and seems that this may require replacement of the unit as software fixes have not resolved the issue.

Prices of used One X model have dropped and by the likes it will drop further unless HTC sees how some of these issues can be resolved with better software specially for the battery issue and camera quality.  The WIFI issue of course seems to be related to some devices, and no formal notice has been issues on what serial no’s are effected by this.

HTC One S

The small brother to the One X, with the 960×560 resolution screen, and a dual core processor.  However its not just a dual core processor but a Snapdragon 4 (called the Krait), who’s performance is far superior to the Quad-core Tegra unit and even beats the Samsung Galaxy S3 unit in some areas.  However the processor is in short supply due to production issues, though this will be the processor and GPU to see in the next ranges.

Sadly the price of the One S remains in Galaxy S3 range, and with most thinking that its inferior to the HTC One X (which is not the case) will dent sales.

Issues with WIFI has not been noticed on these models.

 Samsung Galaxy SII (GT-I9100)

While the Galaxy S3 maybe blazing fast compared to phones prior to the quad-core range, the Galaxy SII remains still a very fast proposition.  The camera can hold its own with the Galaxy SII and any other phone, making it more than adequate for top end multimedia use.

With the ICS update, the phone performs very well in the Internet browsing department, and its main weakness will be its lower resolution, as the 2012 crop have the higher 1280×800 (or close) resolutions screen which offer greater sharpness and more viewing in the same screen space compared to the 800×480 resolution screens.

However the AMOLED screen holds its own for video and color.  Battery life also remains decent with 1 day easily being possible if you don’t push the 3G use.

Presence of a MicroSD card for upgrading storage, and use of a standard SIM will also be liked by many who tend to switch phones.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samsung_Galaxy_S_II, be careful of the flooding of Galaxy SII from Korean.  These phones have a different code SHW-M250, and though identically spec’d to the Galaxy SII the firmwares are different, and also has some features lacking compared to the global version.

Also note that I9100G also comes with a completely different hardware the TI OMAP processor and the older PowerVR graphics.  while this might be slightly slower it offers better battery life.

Sony Xperia S

Maybe the 2012 flagship from Sony, but sadly its no match in performance to the S3 or the HTC One X/S, with its main selling point being its 12MP camera and very striking design.

The performance of the phone is more in level with the Galaxy SII though it performances a bit better in Internet browsing, etc due to the faster processor, but falls short on the gaming side with the Galaxy SII MALI400MP GPU being still superior to the Adreno 220 unit on the Xperia S.  Strangely the rest of the 2012 Xperia range don’t use the Qualcomm processor but use sony’s own Thor processsor that has a MALI GPU, but an inferior version compared to what runs on the Galaxy S II (and the Note).

The camera is touted as one of the best in the Android/Smartphone market, but based on test it seems while the optics are good, the less powerful flash compared to the Galaxy S3 and the S2 makes it not the best in lower light situation regardless of the use of Exmor.  However without the flash definitely it will perform better though you are not going to get stellar pictures without a flash indoors with such tiny sensors.

Two big let downs from the Xperia S has been the use of the microSIM and the lack of an MicroSD port, which has resulted in poor acceptance of this phone in many markets.  The fact that it also launched without ICS and only recently got the ICS update (months after the 2011 range got the ICS update) also has impacted this phones market acceptance.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Yes its big for a phone with a lovely 5.3″ screen, but for some it can still be a very good balance specially if you surf a lot and also want to do some reading or watch videos. The much larger battery makes this an ideal combination and it also has the advantage over its Galaxy SII brother that it comes with the higher resolution screen that is in par with the 2012 range.

The camera unit is the same,  so it matches the Galaxy SII in its multimedia capabilities, and trounces it in the Internet, Video and reading areas.

The stylus may seem a gimick at first, but with the ICS update the stylus apps are now ultra smooth and can be very useful for jotting down notes and drawing something you can’t do with any other phone in this article including the Galaxy S3.

If you don’t mind the slightly larger bulk this is a super device, with the newer version touting a larger 5.5″ screen due in Oct 2012.  Many said this phone will fail just like the Dell Streak, but how wrong were the analysts! The phone has become very popular and sold extremely well that has also made other vendors also start making similar devices.

HTC Sensation XE

The XL might be larger but it does not have the higher resolution screen, making the XE the better of two.  The camera is good, video is decent and the hardware for a 2011 model is identical to the 2012 Xperia S so its more than good enough. The higher resolution 960×540 also puts it one above the highly popular Galaxy S II.

ICS is now available making it all ready with the new OS.

However strangely the market has been more about the Galaxy SII and the Note than this Sensation range, and I believe this is due to the death grip issue with the original sensation that led to the drop in the Sensation market.

One area that HTC remains poor is the battery, with the common complaint being the poor battery life compared to rivals with similar specs.  Pushed hard the phone will struggle to get you a days life. The Sensation XE also has a lower internal memory, but has the MicroSD to increase the storage.

The full kit for the sensation also comes with an excellent Beats earphone that other models cannot match.

Samsung Galaxy SII Sky Rocket

This is the odd one since it’s a model that has not been sold in the asian markets.  Most of these are the LTE versions, hence the hardware is identical to the Sensation XE/Xperia S since the  Samsung chipset does not support LTE, so it cannot run the Exynos / MALI combination.    This means more CPU power than the Galaxy SII but lower graphics performance for gaming.

The benefits of the Sky Rocket is that it has the LTE support in case its offered in your region, it has a larger screen but same resolution as the Galaxy SII, so the text is less sharper. The device also has no FM radio unlike the Galaxy SII.

For anyone who wants a larger screen for browsing and video, this is a better buy than the Galaxy SII and you get the same camera hence the multimedia is on par.

One more positive is that it comes with a higher capacity battery (to support the higher drain of LTE networks), but if you use it in a 3/3.5G network this means better battery life!