Bluetooth 3.0 and Wireless N speed test: Something in the air

GSMArena team, 29 December 2010.
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Tags: Apple, Nokia, Samsung

Wireless N test setup

For the Wi-Fi tests we did our best to eliminate all variables save for Wi-Fi itself. We ran our own web server in the local LAN and we used a Netgear WNDR3700 router for spreading the Wi-Fi love around.

Our first test included downloading a 30MB file with the phone’s web browser. We picked two testing positions – near the router (about 1.5m away from it) and in another room with walls between the phone and the router (Wireless N promises better performance than b/g at the same distance given the coverage is good enough).

Since Wi-Fi performance can be affected by neighboring networks, we ran multiple tests and took the best one. Tests were conducted with a Samsung I9000 Galaxy S, a Nokia N8, an iPhone 4 and a Samsung S8500 Wave – different platforms, different OSes.

We also did a second test by hosting some static web pages on our LAN web server to see if the new standard gave any speed improvement in terms of latency. The web page loading also forced the phone to load multiple small files instead of just one big file (which also might affect the performance). This test was conducted at 5m away from the wireless router.

The three static pages are actually snapshots from our site, so they are real-world stuff. We recorded the times the browser needed to open the three with an accuracy of up to 1/30 of a second (we shot the whole testing on 30fps video, if you’re curious).

Wireless N test 1 – measuring the throughput

So here are the aggregated results from the first test – the file download. We only list how much better or worse is using Wireless N over the standard-issue G protocol (0% means no change in throughput in the compared modes). We used two Wireless N modes – the "neighbour-friendly" Wireless N 130Mbps mode and the "maximum performance" Wireless N 300Mbps mode.

Bear in mind, these numbers won't allow you to compare the wireless throughput of the different phones. They only show the way the throughput of any individual phone changes when you go through the available WLAN modes.

Throughput change,
Samsung Galaxy S Nokia N8 iPhone 4 Samsung Wave
Near Far Near Far Near Far Near Far
n130 over g 16.23% -33.44% 10.78% -29.51% 0.00% 0.44% 5.91% -9.57%
n300 over g 9.82% 33.33% 9.71% -20.66% 145.00% 0.22% 10.26% 45.42%
n300 over n130 -5.52% 100.33% -0.97% 12.55% 145.00% -0.22% -4.10% 60.81%

Let’s start with performance near the router – Wireless N at 130Mbps was within 15% of WirelessG, sometimes posting a worse result (the Nokia N8) and sometimes both tests were exactly the same (the iPhone 4).

Wireless N at 300Mbps showed a modest improvement over WirelessG (about 10%) and then there was the Nokia N8, which also posted a slightly slower result. The iPhone 4 on the other hand showed a huge improvement in this best case scenario (though on average it hovered around WirelessG speeds).

At close range the difference between WirelessG and the two Wireless N modes is pretty much negligible. So, it’s down to the second test to decide the winner (the second test is also more realistic in terms of usage anyway – people rarely stand this close to the router).

Although Wireless N doesn’t increase the range of Wi-Fi, it should offer a better throughput than the G protocol at the same distance.

Our tests show that with mobile phones this is not guaranteed and strongly depends on the Wireless N mode used on the access point.

At our furthest test location the phones performed consistently slower at Wireless N 130Mbps than on G protocol except the iPhone, which scored the exact same result in both cases.

But switching to the 300Mbps Wireless N mode gave us the improvement we were looking for. The iPhone 4 again didn’t see a difference, while the Nokia N8 managed a 12.5% improvement (but still remained under its G mode score).

With the Samsung Wave and Galaxy S however, the 300Mbps mode really mattered. The Wave saw a 60% improvement (over n130), while the Galaxy S managed double the bitrate as compared to the 130Mbps mode.

Update, December 30: Some users report that their Nokia N8 would crash when connected to a Wi-Fi network secured with WPA2 (that didn’t happen with our unit though). They suggested switching off Power saving to remedy the problem.

Since we used that mode to enable the high-speed transfers on Wireless N (check the tips on the next page) we re-ran the tests with Power saving off. The results in the table have been updated to reflect those new findings.

Performance near the router improved for both N modes – it went from about -8% to 10% on the positive side.

That’s still not a huge improvement over Wireless G, but it answers why the Nokia N8 was the only phone losing speed near the router when using Wireless N. Performance away from the router remained the same though.

The cream of the crop

We guess you're dying to learn which phone has got the fastest wireless throughput. We won't be publishing any detailed numbers because that will skew the purpose of these tests, but we'll just mentions some.

Closer to the wireless router, the phones with the greatest throughput were the Samsung Galaxy S (20Mbps) and the Apple iPhone 4 (17Mbps). The Galaxy S was the best performer in G-only mode as well (18Mbps).

However further away from the router, it was the Nokia N8 that came on top. Although it didn't show much benefit from the Wireless N mode, the N8 had the most consistent throughput (between 10 and 14 Mbps) that kept its pace from all locations and in all test modes.

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