There's a lot of talk about whether 3G dongles with flatrate data represent direct like-for-like competition against home DSL or cable broadband. My view is that at some levels this is true - especially for people unable or unwilling to take out long contracts for fixed-line connections, eg students or people moving home regularly. There are also segments of the market that want both fixed & mobile connections for different reasons, and a zillion sub-segments with unique requirements of their own.
That's all well and good, but discussion recently about fixed-line broadband (in the UK at least), has highlighted a lot of unhappiness about headline advertised data rates ("8MB Broadband!", "Superfast 20MB cable"), where the figures quoted (usually with "up to" in small print) don't match the reality. In those cases, it's usually a limitation imposed by the length/quality of the copper, so that if you're living 4km from the local exchange, you get a lousy speed. Although obviously there's a lot more to it around contention rates, backhaul and so on, there is at least a chance that you could be given a "guaranteed" data rate rather than a hypothetical one.
My experience with HSDPA recently has been a little patchy. In particular, I'm becoming increasingly aware of one of the limitations of the technology - the way it dishes out much more capacity to those people in the best radio conditions. It's not just that the signal degrades with distance / indoor penetration (ie the equivalent of DSL line length), but the fact that the system deliberately biases itself towards people with better radio reception.
This exacerbates the difference between the best and worst grades of service - to a greater degree than happens in the fixed world. On ADSL, you'd have to be pretty unlucky not to get 2-3Mbit/s on a supposed 8M service (ie maybe 70% less than headline rate). But on HSDPA, it's quite possible to get a 90% or more reduction in speed when you're on the fringes of coverage, versus when you have 5 bars on the signal meter.
I notice this regularly - I have 2 branches of Starbucks near me on Baker St in London, perhaps only 200-300 metres apart. One has seating in the basement, the other at ground level. Sitting in one of them, I'll regularly get 1Mbit/s+ with high reliability & low latency (this is on Hutchison 3, and I haven't got above 2Mbit/s at all). But in the other, I'm often lucky to get 100kbit/s, and often the network will just seem to 'hang' for 20-30 seconds. I'm not sure if they're both in the same cell, but the difference between 1-bar signal and 5-bars is at least a 10x change in throughput.
Does anyone else experience something similar? Or is this an issue that's going to cause customer service issues, or perhaps drive the need for femtos, or 900MHz 3G? In either case, it strikes me that any regulatory approach to selling "What you pay for is what you get" broadband is really going to struggle with mobile.