Mar 22, 2011

Verizon's 4G Network Doubles AT&T Speeds

Verizon has the fastest 4G network, more than twice the speeds of second-place AT&T, according to a PC World study, but the numbers illustrate the difficulty of blanket network comparisons.

In testing with a 4G-equipped laptop, Verizon's new LTE network stomped the competition in cities where it's available, but the carrier's 3G network, used by all its smartphone users, posted lackluster results that were even a bit slower than in similar tests conducted last year. That doesn't bode well for the influx of iPhone 4 users, but when the company's first 4G handset arrives this summer, it should be very fast.

The beleaguered T-Mobile, facing spectrum shortages and currently in discussions to be acquired by Sprint, actually had the fastest smartphone network performance and placed second only to Verizon's LTE on laptop tests.

AT&T, the nation's largest carrier, placed in the middle of the pack, and Sprint did well on smartphone tests but came in last for laptop use.

Despite the attractiveness of average numbers for analysis, taken as a whole, the results show that blanket statements about network performance aren't worth much, since regions and availability of networks play a large part of perceived speed. For example, if you need laptop connectivity in one of the 38 markets served by Verizon's 4G network, its LTE offering blows everything else out of the water -- but as soon as you find yourself in an area covered by its 3G network, you'll see some of the slowest speeds measured in the tests.

Also, the difference between the slowest and fastest speeds for a given carrier across different cities is often more than the difference between the slowest and fastest carrier on average. This means that where you live can be a more significant variable than the network you choose.

The good news is that almost across the board, speeds have improved in the U.S. over the course of the last year. However, subscribers are wise to privilege their local experience and word-of-mouth from friends over national averages that mask substantial city-to-city variation.


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