Vividwireless has revealed that users of its six-week old WiMAX network in metropolitan Perth are recording average downlink speeds of 9.53 Mbps.
The wireless network, owned by Network Seven, launched a service in Perth on March 22 and plans to launch in Sydney and Melbourne in August; Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra in January 2011 and be in all major cities by December 2011.
The company has thus far refused to reveal network speeds outside of promising that the network was "very fast".
But vividwireless CEO Martin Mercer strayed from protocol today to describe what users on the network claim to have experienced in real terms.
"We are not going to be making any claims like the other telco operators," he told the 4G Conference in Sydney today. "There will be no advertising of peak speeds or "up to" speeds. We said we would not talk about speeds til customers tell us what speeds they are experiencing."
Mercer then revealed that users on Speedtest.net reported an average downlink speed of 9.53 Mbps, making vivid "the fastest consumer ISP in Perth."
"We are providing a superior experience to ADSL2+," Mercer told the audience.
Mercer backed up his claim with a second piece of user-generated evidence - the network speeds recorded by users of the Whirlpool forums. Of 139 individual users claiming to be using vividwireless, Mercer said that 27 experienced real speeds of over 20 Mbps, with the highest at 36 Mbps, the mean at 12.17 Mbps and the median at 9 Mbps.
Mercer said users typically experience three times the download speed as upload speed - with the majority of users experiencing upload speeds of between 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps.
He conceded that speeds might "come down slightly" as more users join the shared service.
"But we'll be utilising the spectrum we have, adding new channels at low incremental costs," he said. "We will still be competitive to fixed broadband," he said.
Mercer's claims attracted plenty of questions from analysts and competitors attending the 4G summit.
He drew the most fire from his former colleague, Telstra chief technology officer Hugh Bradlow, who described speedtest.net and Whirlpool as "self-selecting groups with a particular bias" that should not be measured alongside the "rigorous testing" of existing telcos.
Bradlow also asked "what engineering degree" Mercer graduated from to assume Vividwireless could simply "switch on new channels" on existing base stations to add capacity.
Mercer had said that vividwireless had already built 145 base stations in Perth - each with cell sizes of 3km radius - connected to twenty fibre hubs and 150-odd Dragonwave microwave links.
"You haven't got to be large to execute," he told the audience. "When I look at the machinations I had to go through to get something done at [his former employer] Telstra, it's so much easier when you're smaller."
One analyst commented that the real question is "how long Seven will throw money" at the vividwireless project.
The ambitious project requires high capital investment to build new base stations across Australia's major cities. It also has to factor in the cost of a potential upgrade of both network equipment and subscriber CPE modems should the ISP choose to become compatible with LTE, which is widely anticipated to hit the mass market in 2015.
"We are fortunate to have a very supportive owner in Seven Network," Mercer said, which had agreed to fund the network's expansion into other capital cities once it "breaks even" in a given territory.
He also revealed that retailers Dick Smith and Harvey Norman are "responsible for a vast majority of sales" of vividwireless plans so far.
Mercer said that the cost of switching the Huawei-based vividwireless network from WiMAX to future LTE services is "not material". He said the network was cheaper to roll out because vividwireless is sticking to mobile broadband rather than a mix of mobile voice and data.
He boasted that with major telcos unable to gain access to mobile spectrum for LTE until at least 2014 - and with Seven endowed with 180 Mhz of existing spectrum - the ISP should expect to have a "substantial market share" of wireless broadband users before it has to compete with any other "4G" networks.
Telstra's Bradlow argued that WiMAX should be compared with today's HSPA networks, not just future LTE upgrades.
"Which customer need does HSPA not meet today?" he asked Mercer, referring to the technology that drives Telstra's Next G network. "My contention is that HSPA delivers the same customer experience as LTE [Long Term Evolution] and WiMAX."
Mercer was measured in his reply.
"[The difference is] if a customer has an expectation of a broadband experience outside of the home that is equivalent to what they get in the home."
Read on to page two for more: WiMAX or LTE?
WiMAX or LTE?
Whilst they disagreed on a range of issues, neither Mercer or his former Telstra colleague wanted to be drawn on arguments being made between LTE and WiMAX as future standards.
"What does WiMAX that LTE doesn't?" the event's moderator asked.
"Not a lot, really," Mercer said. "What does the customer think? That's the question. The customer doesn't care really. Both [technologies] enable an experience that is qualitively different to some flavours of 3G - that is the equivalent of fixed products."
Mercer said that vividwireless would never attempt to compete with Telstra outside of the major cities, nor that wireless would completely replace fixed line connections. He doubted that any service provider could "guarantee" a 100 Mbps connection over a wireless network any time soon.
"Wireless will never satisfy the huge requirements in some future homes or of some businesses," he said.
"[But] at the moment it's clear that WiMAX meets our customers' needs."
Mercer predicted that over the next few years, some customers may look to wireless as their first choice connectivity option for its pure convenience, and choose fibre-based fixed connectivity as an option only when higher access speeds are required.