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LTE Giveth and LTE Taketh Away

For those of us fortunate enough to have access to an LTE market area, we know how exciting it is to finally be able to download/upload data with ease. The Carriers love it as they can quell the complaints about their slow networks (at least for a while anyway) and have an opportunity to add up charges when you easily exceed your monthly data limits. So with all this magical speed, does LTE have a downside? Well, yeah.

It frustrates me when I ready about users and their battery life experiences ranging from incredibly fantastic to incredibly bad, often with the same device. While there is always the possibility of variables, like signal strength, that can significantly affect a users battery experience, the way they use their device from day to day usually explains the anomalies away. Fortunately for you, I am pretty boring and stick to a basic routine every day. I use my device in the same location(s) for  approximately the same thing, and for the same amount of time. While my results are admittedly anecdotal, they are as close as you are going to get to accurate without a full blown lab test. Something I am sure each Carrier has already done, but is guarded in the Carrier Book of Secrets.

My basic routine includes unplugging my phone every morning , sitting on the same stool (no, not that stool), and then using it for 1.5 to 1.75 hours to; read any overnight texts or emails, browse the MD site via IE, open Weave and read all the new mobile news and then open Board Express to read  and comment in a few blogs. Phone never turns off and all in that specific order. On slow news days, I might open Mehdoh to read a string of tweets. Or, on a really slow day, open the People Hub to read some Facebook posts. That’s it. Most of the work day my phone stays holstered, or I may  occasionally gaze at a few emails or a text if I am hearing a bunch of alerts. This routine gives me a good indicator of uptime and sleep time battery drain. Consistent, and therefore reasonably accurate.

As I have a good Wi-Fi connection both at home and at work, I leave Wi-Fi turned on 24/7. In overnight tests I have found that Wi-Fi draws virtually no power while asleep, as it’s not active or searching. So provided you have a reasonable connection a good part of the day, it’s not going to have much of an impact on battery life. My other reason for using Wi-Fi, despite having a grandfathered Unlimited AT&T Data Plan, was the abysmal 3G connection I got both at home and work with my Surround. But with my new Lumia 900 and LTE, that is no longer an excuse. So I decided to go LTE only for a few days to see if I could wean myself off of the Wi-Fi habit.

Having an unlocked device and the (Homebrew) Battery Meter app helps with testing battery usage. I can see where I am at a glance and I can view the provided graph anytime, showing me a battery percentage update every ten minutes. Over the past month, my  morning routine equated to about 13% battery drain per hour of uptime, with both LTE and Wi-Fi turned on. That is about right as the L900 is rated for 7 hours talk time and typically uptime (screen on) will be a little better than talk time (100% / 13% = 7.69 Hours). At least this has been the case with my last 4 phones. When I decided to use LTE only, battery usage over five days of testing jumped to an average of 19% per hour. Holy gluttony Batman! That’s an increase in battery drain of 46%!  Note that I always have  3 or 4 bars of LTE inside the house with speeds around 10-12Mbps down and 3-5Mbps Up. That may be a “poor” signal in LTE Speak, but seems above average to me. When I returned to the LTE + Wi-Fi setup, battery drain went back down to 13% per hour. Email syncs, background tasks, Location on, etc. have all been about the same since of got my L900 so no variables to skew the results.

Note that  the percentages above are based on the L900 and it’s 1,830mAh battery. Every phone will have a different percentage of drain per hour, based on their battery size. My Surround, for example, drained about 21% per hour of uptime (100% /  21% = 4.76 hours – rated at 4hrs 10 min Talk Time).

On the flip side, sleep time with LTE only or Wi-Fi/LTE (occasionally turning the phone on to read a quick text or email) both burn about the same 4% per hour. Only get 2 to 3 bars of LTE at work, so that might explain the 4% drain. But I am also zeroing in on a couple Live Tile News apps and Location services being the culprits.

So what’s the moral here. If you have access to Wi-Fi most of the day, keep it on. And keep your LTE on as well.  Keeping both on you can still get background updates but enjoy the lower power drain that Wi-Fi offers. And you will still be good to go with LTE when you spend a night out on the town. Just remember to charge your phone before you go.