Orlando cellphone-data speeds are all over the place, report finds
Mar 09, 2013 (Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Erin Burkhardt streams music easily using her smartphone at Lake Eola, but tunes won't load on her tablet at her downtown Orlando home nearby.
Yet firefighter Daniel Wade, who lives a block east of Burkhardt, surfs the Internet on his smartphone at lightning speeds. Outside Orlando's core, Catherine Bove's YouTube app refuses to load videos on her cellphone at her house in Oviedo -- the same images that play smoothly at Lake Eola.
"That doesn't happen at home," Bove said as she watched a version of the "Harlem Shake" last week near the lake.
Central Florida's cellular-data networks are all over the map, from superstrong signals to barely working blips in places sometimes within a block or two of each other, a new report shows.
The report raises questions about whether the networks are strong enough to handle the fast-growing number of mobile devices that Metro Orlando residents are incorporating into their lives. The companies that run the networks say they are frantically adding new technologies to improve service.
The February report from RootMetrics, an independent group that measures mobile strength, shows the networks generally do well handling phone calls in most areas. But the report finds that the separate signal to download movies, photos and other multimedia can be spotty.
Officials at AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile are aware of the issue and plan to add wireless spectrum, new technologies and more antennas inside buildings to boost the power of their existing networks.
Despite the concerns, Orlando ranks as the third-best U.S. city in average data-download speeds, the report found.
"It's exciting to watch how wireless networks are unfolding across the country, especially in a city like Orlando," said Julie Dey, vice president of marketing at RootMetrics. "It's a competitive market that enables consumers, businesses and others to take advantage of some of the fastest speeds across multiple carriers."
Dey's company provides online users an interactive map (at rootmetrics.com/check-coverage) that allows consumers to see signal strength and data speeds from all the major wireless carriers in their neighborhoods. Researchers performed more than 25,000 tests on smartphones at various times during seven days in January to compile the results.
The resulting map shows that most wireless carriers in Central Florida offer the fastest mobile download speeds on major thoroughfares, including Interstate 4; state roads 50, 408 and 436; and Orange Blossom Trail.
Some neighborhoods in Orlando, Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Heathrow, Lake Mary and Sanford show average download times of 12 megabits per second to 58 Mbps, speeds ideal for downloading software, streaming a movie, sending emails with attachments or downloading an image with few delays.
"I never have any problems with my AT&T iPhone from my house," said Wade, who lives off Summerlin Avenue and Livingston Street in Orlando. "I mostly use it to search for new medications on the Internet, and it's pretty fast."
But for some users, speeds plummet just a few blocks down the road.
"I can track my runs while at Lake Eola on my iPhone ... but when I get home, I can't post anything or even listen to Pandora," said Burkhardt, a real-estate agent who lives off Livingston Street and Broadway Avenue. "It infuriates me."
Speeds fall to a paltry 70 kilobits per second and 194 kbps in parts of Clermont, Winter Park, Deltona, Windermere, Kissimmee, Oviedo, DeLand and Mount Dora. Parts of some Central Florida communities, including Pine Hills, Gotha and Hunter's Creek, have dead zones with next to no data at all, the report says.
It takes 1,000 kilobits to make a single megabit. So a 58 Mbps signal is about 829 times faster than 70 kbps, which is barely faster than the 56 kbps dial-up modems from more than a decade ago.
Dey said AT&T performed the best of all the carriers in Orlando, with an average download speed of 22.5 Mbps.
Gretchen Shultz of AT&T said the company invested $400 million from 2010 to 2012 to improve its wireless network in Central Florida. Orlando was the first city in Florida where AT&T launched its faster 4G LTE network, she said.
The major U.S. carriers all provide 4G networks, which deliver faster speeds than 3G. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint offer 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution). LTE is an industry standard for technology that not only connect voice calls, but also high-speed-data transmission.
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