Lincoln Han
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A comparison of 3G (UTMS) and ADSL connection for uploading

Date: September 2014

Most usage of an average internet user is downloading data. Uploading makes a very small percentage of the data usage. With today’s rise in internet user’s volume of video upload, the uploading connection is still a bottleneck for most users. Usually when the user types a web address, it makes a request to the server, which is an uploading action. When the sever returns data in the form of a web page, it is where the user will spend most of his time.

When high speed internet connection began becoming more popular around early 2000, technology like ADSL quickly gain wide acceptance. ADSL is an abbreviation for Asynchronous Digital Service Line, which has a different upload and download speed. It is not uncommon to see ADSL providers to offer 4Mbps (Megabits per second, or 400 Kilo bytes per second), while the upload speed is limited to an average of about 350Kbps (Kilobits per second or 35 Kilo bytes per second).

Today, high-resolution photos and HD videos are common. On average, a moderately compressed 5 Mega-pixel photo is about 500KB to 1MB. It takes 15 to 30 seconds to upload such photo at 35KBps (or 350Kbps). A ten-minute 720P HD video can be around 500MB, which can take several hours to upload. While there are alternatives such as cable modem and optical connection that offer the equal upload and download speed, they have their own limitations, in particular, availability to the user. Cable modem internet service is not available in most parts of the world. Fiber optical internet service is still limited to certain urban areas and cost several times more than ADSL.

One often neglected option is the 3G (third generation, usually based on UTMS technology) or faster (3.5G, 4G) data connection using the digital cellular network. The most commonly implemented UTMS standard for uploading is HSUPA or High Speed Uplink Packet Access (there is also HSDPA for downlink), which could reach up to 34Mbit/s (3.4MByte/s). Most of today’s smart phones have a minimum of 3G data support, and the newest ones have 4G. Although some carriers are deploying 4G data network, 4G availability and coverage is still limited compared to 3G. Nowadays many people have mobile phone plans that offer generous data plan at 3G or higher speed. Many ADSL users also have 3G-capable phones with a data plan. For someone who uploads a large amount of data, the 3G connection is an attractive alternative to ADSL.

Simultaneous uploading files over 3G UTMS HSUPA connection

When uploading via ADSL at its highest uplink speed, it consumes nearly the entire bandwidth and when the user tries to do a simple task such as browsing the web, it evidently becomes slow. This is because when the user enters a web address, the browser has to wait for the modem to make the bandwidth available to send the request (an upload action). Also, multiple upload at the same time will cause the modem to divide the bandwidth by reducing the speed of each upload. So if the user is trying to upload three files at 36KBps, that slows to a crawl of 12KBps (or 120Kbps) per connection. The more connections one establishes, the slower the upload speed for each connection. Instead, using 3G to upload does not have this problem. Each connection is a new channel with the cell phone tower and is able to use the full speed to upload.

In an example used for this article, the carrier’s 3G upload speed is very similar to the ADSL connection used in testing, around 36KBps, but the difference is that each uploading connection is at its highest speed. The web browsing experience is not affected as the browser’s request uses a different channel. Uploading three video files simultaneously through the 3G connection took one-third the time it would have taken through the ADSL connection. Hence, with a 3G connection that has a similar upload speed as ADSL line, one could finish multiple uploading several times faster. If a generous data plan is available, for those users who frequently upload large files, 3G is an optimal choice, especially when fibre-optical connection is not available.  

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