The Cat 4 tablet from Vodafone and Huawei promises faster 4G speeds than other LTE-capable devices. But is it faster really?
Vodafone said Cat 4 devices, like the soon-to-be-released Huawei MediaPad 10 Link 4G, are in theory capable of download speeds of up to 150Mbps, compared to 100Mbps for Cat 3 devices. Cat 4 devices are faster because they take full advantage of Vodafone’s 20MHz of spectrum in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
However, in a week-long test of the Huawei MediaPad, Techworld Australia didn’t find network speeds to be significantly faster than in a previous test of the network using a Cat 3 device.
In addition, while the 10.1 in Huawei device is an acceptable Android tablet, it is unlikely to dazzle, especially when compared to other 4G devices on the market like the Apple iPad.
We conducted 12 speed tests of the 4G LTE network over five days. The tests were conducted in Sydney - Surry Hills, North Sydney, Kensington and the CBD.
Our average download speed using the Huawei Cat 4 tablet was 34Mbps, with a high of 53Mbps and a low of 11Mbps. Using a Cat 3 Samsung Galaxy Note II in our previous test, the average download speed was 33Mbps, with a high of 67Mbps and a low of 16Mbps.
The Huawei device had an average latency of 47ms, which is better than the average 58ms we found on the Samsung smartphone. Latency, sometimes called ping, measures how much time it takes for the host server to receive and process a request.
With both Cat 3 and Cat 4, actual speeds were significantly lower than theoretical speeds. Actual speeds are affected by several factors, including how many people are on the network and distance from the wireless tower. It should be noted that our test of the Cat 3 device occurred before Vodafone opened its 4G network to the public, so it’s possible we experienced faster speeds on that device as a result.
These are still great speeds compared to 3G, and the average user who doesn’t have a speed test app on heavy rotation will likely be satisfied. Using the Huawei device, we watched a YouTube video in full HD 1080p on the train near Circular Quay with no problems whatsoever.
It’s worth noting that Vodafone’s 4G coverage can be spotty indoors. Both the Cat 4 and Cat 3 devices we tested switched to 3G inside train tunnels and inside some buildings. Even when the devices maintained a 4G connection indoors, reception tended to be about 2 bars.
Both issues could be attributable in part to the 4G network using 1800MHz spectrum, which is higher frequency and therefore less able to penetrate walls. Telstra and Optus 4G networks currently also use this spectrum, but in the future they will use lower-frequency 700MHz spectrum purchased in the recent Digital Dividend auction. Telstra also plans to refarm 900MHz spectrum for 4G.
Next: A rather average tablet