Feb 23 AT 4:55 PM Taylor Wimberly 11 Comments

PC World pits big carriers in 3G battle

The last time we checked, AT&T was still advertising they owned “the nation’s fastest 3G network”. How fast is it though? It feels like the carriers have been announcing network upgrades every month, so it is getting difficult to tell who is still in the lead.

PCWorld did the dirty work and tested the 3G networks for AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile. They compared laptop and smartphone performance for 13 cities in 51,000 separate tests. Check out the 7-page result for full details or see the highlights below.

AT&T

AT&T recently announced they had completed their upgrade to HSPA 7.2 ahead of schedule, which doubled the maximum speeds of their cell sites. For their 4G network, AT&T will begin testing LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology later this year, with commercial deployment scheduled to begin in 2011.

Highlights of the AT&T results:

  • AT&T’s network turned in download speeds that were 84 percent better than the numbers from eight months ago.
  • AT&T’s download speeds were 67 percent faster on average than those of the other three largest U.S. wireless providers–Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
  • AT&T’s average download speed increased to 1410 kbps.
  • AT&T upload speeds increased by 58 percent and now average 773 kbps.
  • The AT&T and iPhone combo turned in the fastest average speeds–downstream and upstream–of the four carrier/smartphone combinations they tested.

Verizon

Verizon uses EV-DO Rev A for their current 3G network. Like AT&T, Verizon will also utilize LTE technology for their 4G network. The carrier is expected to launch LTE in 25 to 30 markets during the second half of 2010. Verizon Wireless believes its LTE network will be capable of speeds ranging between 8 Mbps to 12 Mbps (but LTE can go much higher).

Highlights of the Verizon results:

  • Verizon promises its wireless customers typical download speeds of between 600 kbps and 1.4 mbps–and in the vast majority of tests, it delivered.
  • Verizon promises upload speeds of from 500 to 800 kbps, yet in only one of the 13 cities (New Orleans) did they record an average upload speed of more than 500 kbps during the laptop-based tests.
  • Verizon’s 13-city average download speed was 877 kbps, down 8 percent from its average of 951 kbps in our tests last spring.
  • The Droid delivered an average upload speed of just 116 kbps, the lowest average of any carrier/phone combo in the smartphone tests.
  • Recent test results suggest that Verizon may not be keeping up with demand in some markets.
  • Verizon’s 3G network does indeed have easily the greatest coverage area of any network.

Sprint

Sprint also uses EV-DO Rev A for their 3G network. They are currently building out their 4G network which uses WiMax technology. The network has a current peak of 10 Mbps, but real-world results are 3-6 Mbps (see our hands on report).

Highlights of the Sprint results:

  • Sprint registered download speeds of 795 kbps on average across the 13 testing cities, nearly identical to those measured eight months ago.
  • Sprint uploads averaged 396 kbps in the winter tests, up slightly from the average of 371 kbps average recorded last spring.
  • Download speeds for the Sprint/Hero combo consistently fell within the range of 700 kbps to 1000 kbps in most testing cities.
  • Sprint ranked first in the reliability tests eight months ago, and it improved on that measure in the latest tests (94% connection rate).
  • Sprint says that 49 percent of the handsets it sold during the fourth quarter of 2009 were smartphones or other touchscreen devices.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile recently upgraded their 3G network to HSPA 7.2 and they are now working to improve their backhaul. The carrier is moving towards HSPA+ in 2010, but we do not know what they will call it. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ has recorded speeds faster than Sprint’s 4G, so they could call it 4G if they decide to. T-Mobile is expected to eventually move to LTE, but they will milk HSPA+ as long as they can.

Highlights of the T-Mobile results:

  • T-Mobile 3G network showed an average download speed of 868 kbps and delivered an average upload speed of 311 kbps.
  • T-Mobile tells its subscribers that they can expect upload speeds in the “hundreds of kbps” and download speeds of up to 1 mbps.
  • During one of the 1-minute speed tests in Manhattan, the T-Mobile network turned in an average download speed of 3 mbps, and registered burst speeds of up to 3.5 mbps.
  • T-Mobile’s network delivered an average download speed to the G1 of only 719 kbps in 13 testing cities–the slowest average in smartphone tests.
  • T-Mobile says that monthly demand for mobile its broadband increased by 275 percent during 2009.

Smartphone results. Click to enlarge.

Laptop results. Click to enlarge.

Conclusion

I have no idea who will have the best network next year, so I chose a T-Mobile Even More Plus plan which does not include a contract. I’m looking forward to their HSPA+ network later this year (which is backwards compatible with their Android phones), but if a better deal comes up then maybe I’ll switch. Of course I hate wireless contracts, so it’s going to take a miracle before I sign one again.

Via: These are the Droids

Source: PCWorld

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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