Three related articles indicate how fast 3G networks might become over time: Mobile Pipeline reported a couple of weeks ago on the latest HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) network test. HSDPA offers a raw speed of 14 Mbps, which should offer perhaps 1 to 2 Mbps as a real speed for end users.
Cingular and Lucent also completed a UMTS/HSDPA test, showing that the current generation of equipment could be as fast as 3.6 Mbps with 400 to 700 Kbps typical for end users. Cingular is deploying a UMTS/HSDPA network with UMTS already available in several cities through its AT&T Wireless merger. The full rollout is apparently planned for 2006.
The Wall Street Journal reports that several firms, including Cingular, Vodafone, Motorola, Qualcomm, and Lucent are looking into 100 Mbps 3G networks possibly by 2009. It's interesting to see both CDMA and GSM firms meeting under the auspices of the 3GPP standards group talk about that kind of future speed. It means that it's clearly feasible. Of course, by 2009, we could have gigabit metropolitan ubiquitous WiMax or Wi-Fi, too.
Currently, UMTS offers a typical speed of perhaps the mid-300 Kbps. Verizon Wireless has committed to national coverage by EVDO, which has a theoretical top rate of 2.4 Mbps which translates to 300 to 500 Kbps in typical use.
In all of these cases, average speed and typical speed are two separate concepts. A typical speed is what a user might see most of the time, with large peaks (and occasional troughs) that skyrocket download speeds. Average speeds are therefore often higher than typical speeds if you were continuously downloading.
Upload speeds are also not consistently reported in any of these or similar articles. With EVDO, subscribers are currently limited to something in the range of 50 to 100 Kbps. This is fine for text and smaller images, but not for higher-quality phone cameras, video (even with high MPEG4 compression), or large file transfer, like PowerPoint presentations. [Thanks to Frank Bulk for a variety of links and insight!]