T-Mobile might be smallest of the big four national carriers, but their upgraded 3G network is going to top anything that their larger competitors have to offer this year. Sprint’s launch of the first 4G phone, the HTC EVO, has generated a lot of buzz (which is deserved) but I wanted to take a moment and cover a few simple reasons why I think T-Mobile deserves some more attention.
1. More coverage
What good is a super fast network if you can’t access it? Sprint is gradually expanding their WiMAX network and plans to cover 120 million people this year, but T-Mobile has already surpassed them in coverage area and will provide 4G speeds to 185 million people by the end of 2010.
T-Mobile has an advantage in coverage thanks to their late transition to 3G. They were the last major carrier to roll out a nationwide 3G network so their equipment was newer and able to support HSPA+ after a software update (and upgraded backhaul to their towers).
Sprint on the other hand chose WiMAX for their 4G strategy and this requires new network equipment to be installed in each market. Their 4G network will continue to grow, but it will be at a slower pace than T-Mobile’s HSPA+.
2. More devices
One of the major benefits of T-Mobile’s new HSPA+ network is that it is fully backwards compatible with existing devices. This means that current T-Mobile customers with older Android phones can take advantage of advanced speeds when HSPA+ comes to their city.
T-Mobile currently offers 16 devices that support HSPA 7.2 Mbps, which includes their entire Android lineup. Many of our readers are already taking advantage of the network upgrade and have reported impressive speeds. Best of all, these faster speeds are available to existing customers with no changes to their calling plans or additional fees.
In the coming weeks, T-Mobile is expected to unveil their first HSPA+ handset which should launch later this summer.
3. Faster speeds
There are many different types of WiMAX and HSPA+ that are capable of a wide range of speeds, but the implementation of HSPA+ that T-Mobile is using offers twice the theoretical speeds of Sprint’s WiMAX network. Sprint’s current theoretical max is 10 Mbps and T-Mobile is offering 21 Mbps.
Sprint advertises their 4G network is 10x faster than existing 3G networks and claims download speeds of 3-6 Mbps while capping uploads at 1 Mbps. I tested their network using the HTC EVO 4G and found it was extremely reliable, but I was unable to surpass 3 Mbps downloads.
When I tested my Nexus One on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network in Houston, I found I was able to hit 5 Mbps down and over 1 Mbps up. Those speeds are impressive and they will only improve once a HSPA+ handset is available later this year.
Theoretical maxes and real world speeds can vary by quite a bit, but after spending hands-on time with both networks I have found that T-Mobile can be twice as fast as Sprint. Comments from our readers have also confirmed that people in HSPA+ markets are seeing faster speeds than those in 4G WiMAX areas.
If you need some more evidence, here are just a few hands-on reports from T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun was able to acheive speeds of 9 Mbps down and nearly 3 Mbps up when he performed his latest round of testing.
This post wasn’t meant to bash on Sprint, but I wanted to show that “4G” is not always better than 3G. Sprint offers some great calling plans, but they are limited to a single 4G handset that is currently sold out online.
While we are talking about carrier networks, we might as well mention AT&T and Verizon too. AT&T is also upgrading to HSPA+ in 2010, but they have a slower implementation (14.4 Mbps) than what T-Mobile is using. Their network could rival T-Mobile, but we don’t have any detailed timelines on the rollout or handset launches yet.
Verizon will roll out 4G LTE to 25-30 markets in 2010, but they are not expected to have any LTE handsets till the summer of 2011. There is a good chance they could eventually have the fastest 4G handset, but we won’t know that for another year.
The carrier landscape is always changing, but if you want an Android handset on the fastest network (this summer), keep an eye on T-Mobile. Of course I could eat my words several months from now, but another reason I stick with T-Mobile is because they don’t force me to. T-Mobile is one of the few major carriers to offer no-contract plans and I’ve saved quite a bit of money since I switched to their Even More Plus plan last year.
Which network do you think will be the best at the end of 2010?