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4G Shootout: Sprint vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon


Posted on March 28th, by raymond padilla in Mobile Tech, Today's Specials. 5 comments

American mobile carriers are in another pissing contest. This time around it’s all about 4G broadband — or really 4G-like speeds, since none of the technologies being used today are actually 4G. Sprint, using WiMax, was the first carrier out of the gate. T-Mobile followed by upgrading its network to HSPA+. Verizon recently launched its LTE network.

3 Carriers + 3 “4G” Technologies = Confused Customers

To give you an idea of the real-world performance offered by Sprint WiMax, T-Mobile HSPA+, and Verizon LTE, I ran some speed tests in three cities. I used a Sprint Epic 4G, a T-Mobile G2, and an HTC Thunderbolt at LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), and JFK (New York) —  you know, the three American cities that matter *joke*. Here are the results.

Los Angeles

Ping Download Upload
Sprint Epic 4G 333 ms 3.85 Mbps 1.52 Mbps
T-Mobile G2 87 ms 1.25 Mbps 0.89 Mbps
HTC Thunderbolt 91 ms 13.4 Mbps 27.74 Mbps

San Francisco

Ping Download Upload
Sprint Epic 4G 371 ms 7.11 Mbps 1.53 Mbps
T-Mobile G2 114 ms 0.91 Mbps 0.87 Mbps
HTC Thunderbolt 83 ms 16.31 Mbps 27.77 Mbps

New York

Ping Download Upload
Sprint Epic 4G 80 ms 4.10 Mbps 0.96 Mbps
T-Mobile G2 80 ms 3.09 Mbps 1.72 Mbps
HTC Thunderbolt 108 ms 13.55 Mbps 32.34 Mbps

As you can see, Verizon’s LTE network beats the crap out of Sprint’s WiMax and T-Mobile’s HSPA+ networks. However, there are several things to keep in mind. First, Verizon LTE just launched and there aren’t many devices available for it. As more users pull from the network, speeds will go down.

T-Mobile’s results at LAX and SFO were interesting and a sign of the network’s limited range; I regularly get great speeds on T-Mobile in the actual cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the airports were another matter. The company has also started rolling out a faster version of HSPA+ that hits a theoretical max of 42 Mbps. It’s only available in three cities at the moment, but should hit 25 markets by mid-2011. Early tests show that real-world speeds of “HSPA+ 42″ are inline with Verizon LTE speeds.

Most importantly, there are several reports of Speedtest.net not handling LTE upload tests properly. Verizon claims that uploads on the Thunderbolt hit anywhere from 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps. I would ignore the the upload results I pulled on the Thunderbolt.

As always, it comes down to network performance where you live, work, and play. These are just data points from three airports. While they show the relative performance of three 4G networks in these areas, the results could be very different in your neck of the woods.

If you have any questions about the results and my 4G experiences, fire away in the comments section!