Finally fast 3G at summer cottage

WOW. Great surprise awaited at my brother’s cottage this summer. TeliaSonera has extended their coverage of 900 MHz HSDPA (3,5G) network to this area, located about 5 km from the centre of Karjaa, a small town in Southern Finland.

This place is surrounded by forests and fields, although there’s a popular golf course nearby.

The connection feels quite fast. Download speeds are several megabits per second, and latency is low enough for Spotify too. According to speedtest.net, download speeds have topped up to about 8 Mbps and upload speeds up to 2 Mbps. Latency seems to be between 50 and 100 ms. Latency could be a bit lower, if the modem was outside.

I just downloaded some 400 MB of OS X updates in a few minutes. Great. This is faster than most Finnish households have as a fixed broadband. However, the quality of mobile access varies a lot more.

Speedtest.net result: TeliaSonera's 900 MHz HSDPA.
Speedtest.net result: TeliaSonera’s 900 MHz HSDPA.

For years this place has been inside the 3G coverage maps of all the three mobile network operators in Finland;  DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera. Until now we got 3G only from Elisa. Now the Huawei E5 modem gets 3G access both from Elisa and TeliaSonera.

If you’re wondering how to share your mobile access for several tablets, PCs and others, read my older blog post.

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Finnish mobile operators are investing heavily in 3G at the 900 MHz frequencies. This year it means something around 2500‑3000 new or updated 3G base stations. It’s an effective way to build mobile broadband in scarsely populated areas.

The mobile link could get even better with an external antenna, and maybe we could get that 3G connection from DNA  too. But it’s kind of a hassle to setup. For now Elisa and TeliaSonera are the winners here.

In cities the download speeds are getting even faster, up to 42 Mbps in theory. This dual channel technology (DC-HSDPA) won’t come to rural areas, because the 900 MHz band is too narrow for this. This might change in the future, if the frequency is no longer needed for 2G (GSM) phone calls.

Windows Phone 8: Destroyer or Savior of Nokia Lumia smartphones?

On Thursday Microsoft surprised even the most people following the mobile and telecommunications business by announcing the drastically new features of their Windows Phone 8 (WP 8) platform; the new common core with Windows 8 (or just the ARM based Windows RT, maybe?), native code C++ and DirectX support for developers, support for higher resolutions (720p and 768p), microSD support, multi-core CPU support, the IE10 browser and lots more. The Metro user interface also gets a big revamp.

Developers are excited. Finally the constraints of the old Windows CE platform will be history. The dream of one Windows development platform takes a major leap forward. It might even become true if everything works as Microsoft has hyped.

Microsoft also announced these are just the platform changes developers need to know now. More consumer specific announcements were promised later this year.

However, there’s a big negative reverse side to these good news: WP 8 won’t become available to current devices. Current WP 7.5 smartphones will get the forth-coming WP 7.8 update which promises enhancements to the UI.  Most of the new features will require getting a new WP8 phone.

What does this mean for Nokia and other Windows Phone vendors? Surely, the forth-coming WP 8 smartphones will be more  tempting than today’s devices. But, Nokia despirately needs their current Lumia series Windows Phones devices sell now. They are losing market share and making losses at a drastical pace.

According to some early reports, operators are already hesitating and not stocking Nokia Lumia phones anymore. Wall Street Journal has also speculated this could put Nokia Lumia 900 sales on ice.

I also called a few Finnish mobile software developers. They said they will probably put all of their resources to future WP 8 devices, because there is such a small base of WP 7.5 users out there.

The danger of fragmentation is obvious. If you develop a nice application that fully takes advantages of WP 8, it won’t work on today’s WP 7.x phones.

Thus Microsoft makes a bold and risky move by changing the core of the Windows Phone platform, but it might be justified in the long term considering the benefits of a common Windows 8 platform. Device vendors such as Nokia have a bigger short-term problem explaining their customers why Lumia 900 and other new devices are soon obsolete.

Speculations about Microsoft bringing their own Windows Phone 8 device do not help the Windows Phone device ecosystem. Nokia seems to be the only vendor really pushing it, and Microsoft as a competitor would make it even less tempting.

Why upgrade to Lumia 900?

Having used the new Nokia Lumia 900 for about a week I’ve got some experience with it compared to my current phone Lumia 800.

Currently Windows Phone 7.5 only supports display resolution of 480×800 pixels which means the Lumia 800 with a 3,7-inch screen has the pixels density of  252 pixels per inch (ppi).  Lumia 900 has the same resolution on a 4,3-inch screen which means a smaller pixel density of 217 ppi.

I haven’t noticed any image quality issues on Lumia 900. Graphics and photos just don’t look as impressive as on phones with better displays, such as Apple iPhone 4S (3,5-inch, 640×960, 326 ppi), HTC One X (4,7-inch, 720×1280, 312 ppi)  or Samsung Galaxy S3 (4,8-inch, 720×1280, 306 ppi).

Windows Phone 8 is expected to support higher resolution screens, but until that device vendors are stuck with the current resolution.

However, there’s actually one benefit with the smaller pixel density. The virtual touch screen keyboard on Lumia 900 has a bit larger letters than on Lumia 800 which makes it easier to write messages. This can be very helpful for people with a bad eyesight or less accurate fingers using the touch screen.

Lumia 900 is larger than 800, and so is the virtual keyboard. This makes it a bit easier to type messages.
Lumia 900 is larger than 800, and so is the virtual keyboard. This makes it a bit easier to type messages.

The most important technical advantage of Lumia 900 compared to Lumia 800 is the support for DC-HSDPA, the latest evolution of 3,5G networks. It offers theoritical download speeds up to over 40 megabits per second (compared to about 20 megabits of Lumia 800), Mobile operators in Finland already support this in lots of cities, but the coverage seems to be quite small. You usually also need a new mobile data plan to take advantage of the higher speeds.

Lumia 900 also has a front-facing camera for video calls, but I haven’t had any use for that yet.

Battery life has been a big problem for Lumia 800, even though the latest firmware update fixed this significantly. I’m still not sure if Lumia 900 is any better. It has a more powerful battery, but the larger display also consumes more power. I have tried a total of around five Windows Phone devices, and of these Samsung Omnia W (with a 3,7-inch screen) has offered the best battery life so far.

I’ve found internet connection sharing (or tethering) to be useful new feature compared to Lumia 800. It was a big help this week when travelling, and internet access using the WLAN connection in my hotel room suddenly stopped working. In less than a minute I had activated the tethering on Lumia 900. With a mobile subscription supporting DC-HSDPA, I could reach peak download rates of about 17 megabits per second and latency of around 20 milliseconds in Elisa’s network Helsinki using the speedtest.net test site. I think that’s quite impressive for tethering.

In the end, internet connection sharing is not a reason to upgrade to Lumia 900, as it’s a standard feature on Windows Phone, but Nokia hasn’t had a driver for it before. That’s why they’re shipping it first on Lumia 610 and 900. Nokia has announced it will become available as an update for Lumia 710 and 800 too.

Lumia 800 still remains to be my favourite Lumia model. I also feel Lumia 900 is a bit too heavy and large to carry around everywhere. If I watched lots of videos and my mobile subscription (by my employer) supported DC-HSDPA, I guess Lumia 900 would be my preferred choice.