We all know that web browsing is supposed to be significantly faster on a 3G mobile device than on an EDGE one. But by how much exactly?

3g_vs_edge

To find out in real-world terms, I timed the website load times of Internet Explorer Mobile and Opera Mobile 8.65 on the AT&T Tilt/HTC TyTN II (3G) and Safari on the iPhone (EDGE). Unlike my previous mobile browser and load times tests, which focused on performance when page rendering was only set to desktop mode, I also tested load times using the fit-to-screen viewing mode when applicable.

The results, given in minutes and seconds (not megabits and kilobits), may surprise you.

Parameters

As before, this was not a scientific study or professional lab test. I eliminated as many variables as I could (see testing parameters below), but it’s important to remember that your own results will vary depending on location, wireless broadband network, and possibly even time of day.

For my tests:

  • Load times were measured from the same location in one sitting (my living room in Honolulu this afternoon) from the click of the enter key or "Go" button in the browser’s address bar to the complete page load according to the progress bar and/or loading icon.
  • Only full versions (not mobile versions) of websites with images were accessed.
  • Each browser’s cache was cleared before testing.
  • The same SIM card was used to connect the iPhone to AT&T’s EDGE network and the Tilt to AT&T’s 3G network.
  • Network signal strength was at its max (5 bars) and consistent throughout the testing period.

Results

Fit-to-screen viewing mode results are listed under the "Optimized" column. Automatic redirects to mobile versions of websites were not timed and are indicated by "redirect."

Times are in minute:second format. 

AT&T Tilt (3G)
Opera Mobile 8.65
AT&T Tilt (3G)
IE Mobile
iPhone
(EDGE)

Desktop Optimized Desktop Optimized N/A
Amazon 0:19 0:22 0:40 0:34 1:06
CNET 0:54 0:55 redirect redirect 2:07
Digg 0:28 0:23 0:48 0:31 0:48
Engadget 0:45 0:36 redirect redirect 1:30
Google News 0:10 0:15 redirect redirect 0:23
Micro PC Talk 0:28 0:25 0:36 0:27 1:29
MySpace 0:14 0:12 0:35 0:30 0:37
NY Times
0:31 0:31 redirect redirect 0:44
Pocketables
0:32 0:28 0:54 0:36 0:58
YouTube
0:28 0:23 0:42 0:28 0:38

Conclusion

Opera Mobile 8.65 came out on top in my wifi-based Windows Mobile browser comparison review, so I’m not surprised that it was typically twice and sometimes four times as fast on 3G as Safari on EDGE. What I didn’t expect was that IE Mobile on 3G sometimes loaded pages at the same speed as  Safari on EDGE. It was generally faster, yes, but it didn’t blow Safari out of the water as much as a standard browser that’s included on just about every single Windows Mobile device around should (not everyone will want to spend $24 for Opera Mobile).

In other words, the average consumer comparing the standard web experience on a 3G Tilt and an EDGE iPhone side-by-side in an AT&T shop will probably go home to fire up iTunes.