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Means and methods for packet data transfer performance evaluation and optimisation in WCDMA networks have not been documented widely, and the effects caused by different parameter values are rarely addressed. The paper illustrates how the system level performance can be quantified (measured) and qualified (good or bad) in terms of spectral efficiency and statistical end user quality. Two methods are compared: spectrum efficiency, proposed by the 3GPP standard; a cost function, introduced theoretically as a weighted sum of key performance indicators. Extensive dynamic simulations have been run to study the effects of different network configurations by means of the two methods. While the spectrum efficiency shows mainly the additional capacity gain (or loss) at given QoS requirements, the cost function allows for a more specific assessment of the quality improvement (or deterioration), and appears to be a more appropriate solution for network optimisation, automation and troubleshooting.