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Interop 2007 - 3G in Sin City

Put 20,000 techies into Las Vegas for Interop 2007, add 50,000 BlackBerry addicted real estate professionals (attending the 2007 ICSC show) and you get a perfect storm for cellular carriers. During this year's Interop show myself and Contributing Editor Jameson Blandford brought a variety of 3G equipment so we could still be productive while on the road. While we were able to use 3G to stay engaged with the office, the performance differed than in past trials.
Our past experiences with 3G data on both GSM and CDMA networks have been positive during our reviews; we've always known that carriers faced capacity issues from both spectrum in certain markets as well as backhaul, but our tests always fell at or above the averages vendors have cited as "real world" performance. So, we figured that 3G would easily present a reliable enough connection medium with which to do our work while away from our home base in Syracuse.

A seeming victim of its own popularity, our experiences with both Verizon's EVDO and Cingular's EDGE were a mixed bag. The good news was that we could always access the carrier's data network, allowing us to be productive whether we were on the show floor, in our hotel room or in one of the many airports we traveled through between Syracuse and Las Vegas. The bad news was that we could clearly see the strain that large events, like Interop, can have on a carrier's network. Our testing was admittedly unscientific, but other vendors and attendees echoed our experiences when we shared them. Some vendors who were demonstrating 3G hardware and applications lamented that they were unable to effectively do so due to problems in the network.

To document our results, we did some tests with both our Novatel V620 card connected to a Lenovo T43 laptop as well as with a Palm Treo 700P. All throughput results were obtained via the use of DSL Reports' mobile speed test ( Speeds on Verizon's EVDO network clocked in at about 300kbps, however our connection would often roll back to their slower 1xRTT service where speeds ranged from 90kbps to 155kbps. Service from Cingular's EDGE network faired slightly better with speeds at roughly 100 - 150Kbps when used with our Cingular 3125 smartphone. We didn't have an HSDPA device available during our trip and our testing was more limited in its scope with EDGE than EVDO.

We had originally thought problems with throughput were due to the locations we tested from, like on or around the Interop show floor. Piling 20,000 attendees into the Mandalay Bay convention center, many of whom carried some sort of mobile data device like a BlackBerry other smartphone from our observations, poses huge challenges for carriers. However moving away from the Manadlay Bay and testing in our hotel room at the Monte Carlo revealed similar results even in off peak hours (I'm willing to bet most people aren't using mobile data in the wee hours of the morning). Testing from the strip at the Las Vegas airport still provided the same experience. We didn't see stable 3G rates (above 600Kbps) until we reached Washington's Dulles International Airport.

This is not to say Wi-Fi was the champion of the show either. In speaking with Interop NOC staff we were told that over 7000 people were on the show's Wi-Fi ntework at any one time. Worse yet, it seemed that every vendor had brought their own live Wi-Fi network to demonstrate applications, by one account there were hundreds of "rogue" access points on the show floor during Interop. (Two different people told Contributing Technology Editor Frank Bulk that there were 500). So, needless to say, there was some pain with regard to performance with Wi-Fi as well.

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