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Six Major 3G and 4G Networks Tested Nationwide 115

adeelarshad82 writes "PCMag recently tested six 3G and 4G networks to determine which ones were the fastest (and slowest) in 18 different US cities. They focused on data, not calls, and used their own testing script and methodology, which combined various kinds of uploads and downloads. Using laptops, more than a dozen people ran more than 10,000 tests; they found AT&T is both the fastest national 3G network, and the least consistent. Sprint's 3G system was the slowest of the 'big four' carriers, but the most consistent. When the test results were broken down by regions, AT&T led on speed in the Southeast, Central, and West, but T-Mobile took the crown in the Northeast region. Sprint's 4G network was fast where it was available, but it was surprisingly slower than 3G in some cities. The fastest AT&T download seen, at 5.05 megabits/sec, was right behind Apple's headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA. The fastest connection in any of the tests was a blazing 9.11 megabits down on Sprint 4G in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta, GA. The slowest city, on average, was Raleigh, with average 3G downloads of 880kbits/sec."
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Six Major 3G and 4G Networks Tested Nationwide

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  • Verizon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dward90 ( 1813520 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:36PM (#32449488)
    I'm surprised at not seeing Verizon mentioned in the summary, as I've heard pretty much everywhere that they have the best network. Perhaps Verizon focuses more on phone service than data?
    • Re:Verizon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:39PM (#32449540) Homepage

      I think their focus is more on coverage than raw speed. Since these tests were all done in major cities, Verizon's major selling point is instantly made irrelevant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Since these tests were all done in major cities, Verizon's major selling point is instantly made irrelevant.

        I live and work in the largest city in the country, and I assure you that Verizon's major selling point is never irrelevant. Currently I have a Verizon phone and a T Mobile phone, up until 4 months ago I had a Verizon phone and an AT&T phone. Even in the city, T Mobile and AT&T coverage is crap. Their signal is often weak, it drops frequently, 3G is spotty at best, even 2G is spotty. My Verizon phone on the other hand always works, 100% of the time. I've had a Verizon phone the longest, about 1

        • You live in Yakutat, Alaska []?
        • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )

          I live and work in one of the more well-off areas of San Diego (Solana Beach)...and the AT&T coverage here is absolutely horrible. I quite often will get no signal at all, spend half my time not even on 3g, etc. Almost all of the people in the office here have an iphone too, and all but one of them have the same problem (meaning, it's not just my phone).

          • I have a Blackberry with AT&T, and I'm frequently in Encinitas taking advantage of my uncle's large collection of surfboards. Yup, AT&T service is crap there. It's also crap in San Gabriel where I live, Yorba Linda where my daughter's school is, and Grass Valley where most of my family lives. It's ok in Fullerton as long as I'm not in the middle of a large building (like, say, in the bathroom in the Math and Science building at CSUF). Next paycheck will likely see me switching to Verizon, for both t

      • Using my metro (Baltimore, and sometimes DC) as the judge, it has verified what I already knew about Verizon: a bit slower but more consistent (how often does the download meet the minimum requirements of the spec). We see 96.3% consistency for Verizon in Baltimore, compared to 92.6% for each of the next most reliable. This is about half the number of dropped/lost/slow data messages from the next best competitor, and far better than AT&T's 74%. In DC, Verizon was actually relatively fast, while still

      • I hear there's a map for that!

    • Re:Verizon (Score:4, Funny)

      by swanzilla ( 1458281 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:41PM (#32449580) Homepage

      I'm surprised at not seeing Verizon mentioned in the summary, as I've heard pretty much everywhere that they have the best network. Perhaps Verizon focuses more on phone service than data?

      I imagine Verizon will switch their focus to data once the 'can you hear me now' guy is done testing their network's voice coverage.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Interestingly, has very different results and Verizon comes in first.

      Verizon has always favored call quality over data service though, that's why they stuck with CDMA and even took so long to convert to digital. For a long time they even required every handset maker to include an extendable antenna for their network to ensure you could get the best signal possible for calls.

      Even now, Verizon 3G is technically EV-DO which caps at 3MB much lower than the 1

      • by nxtw ( 866177 )

        Verizon has always favored call quality over data service though, that's why they stuck with CDMA and even took so long to convert to digital.

        Cellco Partnership dba Verizon Wireless (result of a merger) didn't even come into existence until after almost all carriers switched to some digital technology. One of the companies (PrimeCo) was CDMA from its launch.

    • by Digicaf ( 48857 )

      Actually, they have an excellent data network. It is slower than AT&T's HSPA, but in my experience it is much much more reliable. With Verizon, I average about 600 - 700 kbps down almost everywhere. With AT&T I might get 1mbps down or I might get 250 - 300 kbps down depending on which wall I'm standing next to. The reason for that is Verizon's EVDO A has been rolled out all over the place and is a little older than AT&T's HSPA. AT&T's rollout of their 3G network was (and continues to be) hor

    • If you look at data consistency they were near the top or won in every region and to most people I think thats more important than pure speed when it comes to a smartphone.
    • I was in NYC last week and was very surprised at how much faster my T-Mobile data connection was. At the time i thought it was my imagination. Now back on the West Coast I'm started to feel a little slighted.
    • by tomz16 ( 992375 )

      I can clarify the verizon thing for you. They were only testing for speed, and only where everyone had coverage. Given those restrictions, the results aren't surprising. I have had data cards and smartphones from AT&T, Verizon, and T-mobile data through various jobs (oftentimes simultaneously). AT&T is generally the fastest when it works. Verizon is by far the most consistent (500kbps~1 mbit almost anywhere in the country in my experience) with the largest 3G network by a HUGE margin. T-mobil

    • I'm surprised at not seeing Verizon mentioned in the summary, as I've heard pretty much everywhere that they have the best network. Perhaps Verizon focuses more on phone service than data?

      If by "pretty much everywhere" you mean "in all the Verizon commercials", I am forced to concur.

    • I'm surprised at not seeing Verizon mentioned in the summary, as I've heard pretty much everywhere that they have the best network. Perhaps Verizon focuses more on phone service than data?

      You've heard they have the best network because their own commercials are everywhere. They do have (probably) the widest coverage area, but it's not the fastest in all areas, and as with every other radio-based technology, doesn't work everywhere. My personal opinion is they are solidly mediocre. They're the Honda Acc

  • by mcwop ( 31034 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:44PM (#32449612) Homepage
    It runs my home network, and I am very satisfied with it. So much so, that the Spring 4G EVO looks very attractive as an iPhone alternative. Too bad my contract runs out in December, and ATT jacked up surrender fees.
    • last July, I was at otakon and in the inner harbor, I'm able to get somthing obscene like 7 megs.

    • I use Clear (formerly XOhm) as my ISP too and it's been great. No contract and $35/month. It's not bad, and worth checking out, although it's specific to where you are. I got 1Mbps in my old neighborhood and now reach 3Mbps and I'm only a mile down the road. A friend in Dundalk got 5Mbps.

      Also, the ETF fee doesn't go up until you sign a new contract (old ETF is grandfathered in if you are still under contract), and by law the fee goes down every month. It's $5/month for AT&T so if it was $175 in December

    • by cawpin ( 875453 )
      "and ATT jacked up surrender fees." They can't change your ETF after you've signed the contract. Yours is still what it was. Only "new contracts" were changed.
  • by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:44PM (#32449618)

    Assholes are running around the country with laptops trying to see how much bandwidth they can eat up for testing purposes.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:46PM (#32449654)

    in NYC and i have an iphone 3GS and a sprint blackberry. speedtests on the iphone average around 600 - 3500kbps download. even in midtown manhattan. depends on the exact location and time of day. and response is pretty good. the Sprint BB is like watching trees grow. Google maps is slow. and there are tons of deadspots around NYC. only time it's better is in one of the old factory buildings on the west side. last year when AT&T had problems i would listen to pandora and slacker on my BB.

    with iphone OS 4 coming out next week i would throw the blackberry in the trash if it didn't belong to my employer

    • by Skadet ( 528657 )
      You get the best service -- in MIDTOWN MANHATTAN -- from AT&T on an iPhone?

      Someone up high is looking out for you.
    • which BB model? i had a sprint BB that was dooooog slooooow, but it wasn't sprint - it was the crappy phone that was slow.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yay Raleigh! We have IBM! We have Redhat! We have Cisco! We also have slow-as-hell 3G / 4G!

    At least our Roadrunner cable service is pretty solid. Would hate to be in an area with great wireless while simultaneously being stuck with Comcast.

    • by z1ppy ( 1123453 )
      Agreed on the RR. Though I am ready for some FTTH. FiOS, uVerse, whatever. GIVE IT UP. That's pretty disappointing about the AT&T 3G service here. I've never really thought of it as being slow. Guess I haven't been traveling much since I joined the 3G world.
  • What about latency? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Benzido ( 959767 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:53PM (#32449750)

    The problem with AT&T isn't speed, it's latency. I often had to wait ten seconds or more for a data request to be met, and often the software would timeout before that happened (which meant I would get no data at all). Once a download actually started, it was very fast, but so what?

    • High latency will result when in areas with high packet loss. Basically your cell puts out the request but it doesn't go anywhere. It times out and eventually tries again - hence the perceived delay. When responding with a data stream, lost packets are quickly recognized by the receiving node. These lost packets can be retransmitted on request - no need to wait for a timeout.

      The test would be to go to an area where you have both great reception and bandwidth. With a good signal and no bandwidth conte

      • by Benzido ( 959767 )

        I never had anything but five bars in Manhattan in my two years with AT&T, (I moved abroad a couple of weeks ago) and I had good bandwidth whenever I could get data, but I never latency anywhere under a second. They probably ARE doing something very wrong.

  • Using the new EVO 4G phone (from Sprint) on a 3G network is a bit like confining yourself to the posted speed limit in a Maserati. Naturally, when the phone goes on sale June 4, people who live in 3G-only cities (such as San Francisco) may wonder what they're missing from the experience. (What is 4G?) So when I got my hands on the phone, my first thought was to see what the device could do in 4G country--cities where Sprint's partner, Clearwire, has had its 4G WiMax network up and running for a good while.
    • Part of the East Bay is a 4G testing area. I just picked up a Sprint Overdrive, and it connects at 4G. The speeds are okay (3-4mbps) but not out-of-this-world like I was expecting.

      The reason it was worth it is the unlimited data @ $60/month on 4G as opposed to the same price for 5gigs on 3G.
    • Naturally, when the phone goes on sale June 4, people who live in 3G-only cities (such as San Francisco) may wonder what they're missing from the experienc

      That's very generous of you. My guess is that most of them will have bought their 4g phones, and be marveling at how much faster the 4g experience really is.

  • First, We know that ATT sucks, but clearly it can deliver data. Certain cities are oversubscribed, certain cities are overpopulated. It is likely physically impossible to put enough towers in NYC to cover all the traffic. I appreciate that ATT is going to sell 2 GB of data, with tethering, for $50. That is $10 less than for verizon. Given that Verizon speeds appear to be slower, unless you live or work in a rural area that does have ATT 3G, I can't imagine what the $10 is for. This has pretty much bee
    • It really depends on your phone. Windows Mobile has had free apps to tether phones as modems (usb/bluetooth/wifi accesspoint) and it's transparent to VZW. I pay my $30/mo "unlimitted" smartphone data plan and that's it, no need to pay for "tethering" crap. To my knowledge android has similar apps, but for BB.. you're SoL.
      • by eladts ( 1712916 )
        Almost all Nokia and Sony-Ericsson phones, even dumphones, can tether via USB or Bluetooth out of the box, there is no need for an app for that. Actually, you can get Nokia 5310 from T-Mobile, get the $10 dumphone unlimited web and tether with that.
    • >I appreciate that ATT is going to sell 2 GB of data, with tethering, for $50.

      Wait, what? Data on a Verizon phone is like 30 dollars. Not $60. Its $60 if you have a non-phone like a broadbard card. A lot of Verizon phones can do tethering for free. If anything AT&T is the ripoff here.

      >Second, why is Sprint 4G so slow?

      Are you kidding. People have been doing speed tests on Sprint/Clear for months and outside of people who are getting zero reception or have bad equipment, we're seeing speeds of 2+

  • by rongage ( 237813 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:02PM (#32449888)

    For what it's worth...

    I was in Chicago for a couple of months at the beginning of the year. While there, I subscribed to Clear Internet ( - a 4G provider with (I think) Sprint backing it.

    My results were absolutely horrible - on average, I was getting 51k download speeds. This was as measured on the modem itself (no router/firewall/PC - right from the status screen on the modem). There was nothing I could do to improve this and the people at Clear were completely baffled by this. According to the Clear folk, I was about 1/10 mile from the nearest tower. I was getting excellent signal and PSNR.

    In my mind, either Clear was totally messed up or 4G has a lot more hype than delivery.

    • Maybe they use the wrong gauge for bandwidth?
    • Considering I could pull better than 51k with my 1x connection 5 years ago, I'm going to go with Clear was totally messed up. I'm on 3g now and while it's certainly not as fast as my wired connection at home, it is most definitely faster than a 56k modem.

    • Rather than re-iterate, I'll just link to a similar reply I had made from the other day. Summary: it's weird what you experienced in Chicago, and I had the exact opposite of what you experienced (plus a much larger set of data - 63 POPs to be exact). Did you try and move it anywhere else? Since it's WiMax, you can just go anywhere with power... []

    • by Dalroth ( 85450 )

      Funny. It's all anecdotal though. I'm on Clear right now in North Chicago and I routinely see 500k+/sec downloads. I've seen the speed tests get as high as 11mbps down, and 1.5mbps up, which in my opinion is pretty damn good for a wireless connection.

      There are definitely some areas where it sucks (Riverside has terrible coverage), but I've found it to be fantastic, hardly ever cutting out and even when it's running slower than usual it's still faster than what I had with an AT&T DSL line.

    • I have the Clear service, (the USB dongle and the Motorola Base station). My experience with it has been mixed. It works at 2+ to 4MB on the USB dongle at my work, which is in Carrollton TX 75007.
      However it has been unreliable at home (where I need it). Some times it runs at 3 or 4 MB but 50% of the time it is sub 1MB or zilch.
      Clear (part owned by Sprint) has promised that 2 more towers are due for activation in the area of my home. The date on this has slipped and I hope that it is not an empty promise.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      "4G" is mostly a marketing now; what is supposed to designate next gen mobile phone networks, with "all is data" approach, is used by PR to describe things which are used only for data (not integrated with rest of services), speedwise on par with 3.5G or 3.75G, at best.

  • Only cities... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by recharged95 ( 782975 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:24PM (#32450178) Journal
    So the indirect conclusion is if you want a best balance of speed, consistency, coverage and price... in a major city, go T-Mobile. Especially when they get HSPA+ running.

    Of course, T-mobile has had it's share of privacy problems or losing data (Sidekick incident).
    • by Knara ( 9377 )
      In general I've had the most luck with T-Mobile, even for non-smartphone applications. Their pay-as-you-go plans and their willingness to let you use your own hardware without too much hassle are big pluses, as I see it. Plus their "cheap phones" are actually kinda nice.
  • First Post~ (Score:3, Funny)

    by Xyde ( 415798 ) <<slashdot> <at> <>> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:26PM (#32450210)
    The fastest AT&T download seen, at 5.05 megabits/sec, was right behind Apple's headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA

    Why am I not suprised this isn't a black spot for AT&T coverage. I bet they have a transmitter aimed directly at Steve Jobs' head.

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Don't be stupid.

      The transmitter is aimed directly at Steve Jobs' office.

      • I bet they have a deal that there is a transmitter and direct fiber line to it IN Steve Jobs' office. More seriously, I would highly doubt that there aren't multiple att towers on apple's campus. When you are developing cell phones you can just cripple coverage with thousands of phones all doing automated testing on the same tower

      • From D8, looks like it's been aimed at his head in his office.

    • by imgod2u ( 812837 )

      Interestingly, Apple campus is one of the only places in Cupertino with good AT&T 3G coverage. My friend lives about 2 blocks away from Apple HQ on Homestead road and I can't even make calls there let alone actually use the web.

      • I tell everybody how bad the AT&T coverage is near Apple headquarters and no one believes me.

        I live 3 miles NE of them. My last job was 2 miles SW. There is no AT&T coverage, in either place, for anybody. Phone calls last 30 seconds and are dropped unless you quickly run outside and find a hilltop.

        What's hilarious is seeing snooty iphone owners in Silicon Valley rush outside all the time whenever their iphones ring. They dart down the stairs and don't even answer until they're almost out into
  • by Stenchwarrior ( 1335051 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:42PM (#32450402)
    In case anyone is confused on the proper designations, please refer to this [] chart. Just replace K's with M's.
  • That's the issue. Loosely, "3G" tends to indicate that service has serious provision for data but is still largely voice, while "4G" indicates a service is data-oriented. There's huge overlap between all the competing systems in bandwidth, coverage, latency and features (e.g shared voice+data). Hell, even "2G" (GSM) can be faster than "4G" when your 4G signal is very weak. The current AT&T vs Verizon spat is pretty much dictionary definition Strawman.

    It's most obvious when you talk about Verizon and, w

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Tech belonging to "CDMA" camp is certainly used also in few places close to Sweden...funny enough, practically exlusively as a stationary net access. Not much of a surpise, considering the quality and diversity of GSM mobile phones, at the least.

      There's also the factor that "CDMA" had larger part of its technology ("intellectual property") based in the US, I believe. Lobbying & behind the scene deals could work well with that. Accidentally, not only Iraq, out of more-or-less-US-colonies, is heavily into

  • Assuming you had an app that could take advantage of AT&T's 5 Mb/s peak speed, you would hit your 2 GB cap in 53 minutes of streaming.

    You won't be streaming too many movies to your 3G iPad anytime in the near future.

  • The tests were not run nationwide, they were run in select major cities. This happens to be a major sticking point if you're like me and don't live in one of the few 3G ATT or TMobile markets. I personally hate ATT, only because they're such liars. They can play Nick Drake all day, their coverage still sucks. And their commercials shouldn't say "3G not available in all areas" it should say 3G not available in MOST areas.
  • It might be worth noting that up here in Ontario I'm able to get 7.2 megabits/sec on a good night, with averages between 4.5-6.5, with latency between 75 and 95ms. And this is literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and trees. In fact, because of where we live, we use something called a Rocket Hub as our primary internet access device, and it uses the cell network. $60/month for 10 gigs, with $5/gig overage. We may not be the best in the world by any stretch, but it's not bad!

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern