Benchmarking LTE in Trinidad

Above: Queen’s Park Savannah. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1157 for August 09, 2018

Over the last ten days, I’ve been testing the LTE (Long Term Evolution) implementations of Digicel and bmobile against each other.

It hasn’t been an exhaustive test, and it doesn’t include the more remote locations claimed by Digicel in its initial deployment.

This ain’t CARIRI, people, but the results reveal some interesting quirks in coverage in Trinidad.

Speedtest – bmobile

The first thing I discovered is that the device I was using to test the bmobile network had, apparently on its own, defaulted to using the 3G network instead of the radio designed for 4G and above.

It’s a simple enough setting to change, but because of the way the phone reports its connection, I didn’t realise the issue until I booted Speedtest, a network benchmarking app.

I’ve no idea how widespread this might be, but it might be worth doublechecking on your mobile device now and then.

I was also curious to find out just how far south Digicel’s coverage ran. With no appetite for driving down random roads, I settled on a simple test down the Solomon Hochoy Highway, pulling over at major stops along the way to test the signal.

The signal was sampled in PoS and at the exits for Grand Bazaar, Price Plaza, Couva, Pointe-a-Pierre, Golconda and in Barataria.

I operated on the assumption that deployment would follow major roadways in penetrating new communities and the best reach would track closely with major roads and highways.

Both networks were tested against the Flow server in Chaguanas. While it’s possible that both networks probably buy capacity from that third party, it seemed a neutral enough access point to bounce a connection off.

Short answer. Digicel’s 4G signal peters out just before Golconda when driving south, roughly around the C3 Centre. By the time you get to the exit to Golconda, it’s firmly in 2G realm, not even loading Speedtest properly.

But that isn’t a heavily populated area, so while the Digicel signal is supposed to fall back to 3G when LTE peters out, there probably isn’t very robust coverage there to serve the rolling countryside.

If you’re the sort of mobile user for whom south is anywhere past the South Quay lighthouse, then you’re golden.

I ran a parallel test on the network during the highway drive; one managed by The Little Tyrant, who streamed dance videos on the YouTube Kids app.

There were no complaints along the route until the signal disappeared, no skipping, no loading pauses, nothing, so that earned an unequivocal thumbs up from an otherwise disinterested party.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t quirks in coverage.

In the driveway of a home in North Valsayn, both networks were in a deadzone. At Kitchener


Avenue in Barataria, bmobile barely registered at 2Mbps while Digicel roared in at 44.

In most locations, there was greater parity in service, though Digicel’s numbers were faster by factors of between 10 and 25 percent (spreadsheet here).

That might be the difference between a mature network (bmobile’s LTE is now a year old) and a newer deployment that’s still migrating users. Since both services require a change of SIM card, it’s a process that takes time.

Digicel claims that 100,000 of its mobile broadband users have made the switch, which should put an adequate load on the system, but only time will prove whether the current speed advantage can be maintained as more users move to LTE.

Anyone who’s been on an LTE network abroad will be surprised at the relatively low in-country speeds.

That particular problem is the result of the Telecommunications Authority’s inexplicable decision to withhold the 700MHZ spectrum from both carriers, forcing them to implement an LTE solution over a frequency optimised for 4G which limits maximum possible speeds.

LTE-A is currently specified at a maximum of 100Mbps for mobile use and 1Gbps for installations, such as mobile hotspots, but that depends on the quality of network and switching systems in place to support the frequency.

That continues to be an unfortunate situation, moreso because the authority has never offered any sensible explanation for its intractability on this core infrastructural issue.