In Data-Speed Race, Who Is the Fastest in LTE?

As smartphone usage has surged, so has the demand for reliable, fast cellular data. Sure, your smartphone can use Wi-Fi to surf the Web, watch video, stream music and download documents. But Wi-Fi isn’t always available or costs extra in some public places.

In the U.S., the fast cellular technology of choice is called 4G LTE. The 4G just means we’re on the fourth generation of cellular data systems and LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, which is the fastest and most consistent form of 4G cellular data. It’s the one that U.S. wireless carriers are competing to offer in as many cities as possible, as quickly as possible.

Verizon Wireless got the jump on deploying LTE and I reported my first tests of its nascent service in January 2011. But now AT&T claims it has almost caught up, and Sprint and T-Mobile are racing to build out their LTE networks.

So I decided to test the availability and speed of the four major U.S. carriers’ LTE coverage in three metro areas where I happened to be in the past month or so. I focused on download speeds because the average consumer is still downloading much more than uploading.
Please note that this wasn’t a scientific test. I didn’t drive the nation in a van jammed with technical gear. I toted around four versions of a major LTE smartphone that supports all four carriers—the iPhone 5S—and ran the same speed test in the same places, 20 times per phone per location. Then I averaged the readings and ranked the results. And I didn’t go into pricing because the companies tend to have pricing plans that are too confusing to lay out in detail here.

Note that, while LTE connections can peak at rates of well over 40 megabits per second, a good average LTE speed is somewhere between 10 and 20 mbps, though the carriers typically promise lower speeds, if they make promises at all. The average speed of a landline Internet connection in the U.S. in the second quarter of this year was 8.7 mbps, according to Internet provider Akamai.

I did the tests in three places. One was my home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. The second was a hotel in midtown Manhattan, near Times Square. The third was a hotel in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The winner, for the first time in any test I’ve run, was AT&T, with an average speed of about 19.7 megabits per second. But AT&T’s victory was secured mainly because of a stupendous performance in New York City, where it dominated its rivals with a stunning average speed of 34.8 mbps.

It was the slowest in my Silicon Valley test and ranked third in the D.C. suburbs. AT&T says it doesn’t promise any range of speeds to its customers.

imageVerizon Wireless came in second, averaging 16.7 mbps, well above its promised range of 5 to 12 mbps. Verizon wasn’t No. 1 in any of the test locations, but it was the most consistent performer, clustering between 15 and 18.6 mbps.

In each city, my T-Mobile iPhone took longer to find an LTE network than the others, but it did quite respectably, with an average score of about 13.5 mbps, well within its wide promised range of between 6 and 20 mbps. T-Mobile won my test in the D.C. suburbs, with a speed of around 19.5 mbps.

Sprint proved the most problematic. Its overall average was the lowest, at about 10.4 mbps and that was only because it won my Silicon Valley test with a speed of 20.7 mbps. In the other two cities, I had to leave my main testing location to search within a small radius to get a Sprint LTE signal, and the results were by far the worst in those places.

Sprint says its network is still wanting in some places because it is trying to replace technology while customers are still using the network.

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About Doru Somcutean

Hello, my name is Somcutean Doru and I'm from Romania.

I really like to read reviews and see what's new about technology, on D-BLOG I share with you articles/reviews that I find interesting. I also write some reviews in romanian...

My second blog is D-NEWS , here are some movie reviews , my favorite songs or clips that I more like a personal please don't get in because you'll get really bored.

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