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T-Mobile USA had the best 3G, Verizon/AT&T split the 4G crown

Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) wound up the top dud in PC World's second annual nationwide phone network speed test.  The carrier finished the 2012 test in the same place that it finished in 2011 -- last.  The nation's only unlimited network is also the nation's most abysmal network in terms of speed.  In 3G and 4G tests across 13 cities, Sprint proved to be as much as 6 times as slow as it next nearest competitors.

Sprint's 3G data speeds actually got slower in 2012 -- the only carrier to do so.  Sprint's WiMAX 4G was so slow it was beat by T-Mobile's 3G network.  Sprint charges customers $10 extra for that "4G" service.

The test employed a variety of each carrier's top phones.  For instant, on Sprint the Galaxy S II from Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) and the Marquee by LG Electronics Inc. (KS:066570).

AT&T Inc. (T) shown in the 3G tests on merits of its HSPA+ network, which nearly doubled in speed since last year.  While AT&T markets this 3G network as 4G, that's just an advertising gimmick.  From a standards perspective, PC World is correct in labelling it 3G.  AT&T itself once said that branding HSPA+ "4G" was intended to deceive customers, only to later jump on the bandwagon.

But deception or not, AT&T's HSPA+ is good news for customers, and T-Mobile USA's (a subsidiary of German phone giant Deutsche Telekom AG (ETR:DTE)) super-charged HSPA+ network is even better news.

T-Mobile's terrific HSPA+ network secured it a decisive first place win in 3G testing.  T-Mobile devices averaged 3.84 Mbps down and 1.44 Mbps up.  Verizon Wireless -- a join venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD) -- was not very far ahead of Sprint, showcasing very poor 3G data speeds.

3G/4G speeds
AT&T and T-Mobile were the biggest winners, Sprint the biggest loser in PC World's big speed test. [Image Source: PC World]

In (true) 4G, though, Verizon Wireless has the nation's largest LTE network (covers ~200M+ Americans).  The company narrowly beat AT&T in uplink speed average 5.86 Mbps versus AT&T's 4.91 Mbps.  However, despite its strong speeds and strong performance Verizon Wireless's 4G devices are reportedly suffering from a problem of 3G fallback -- given that Verizon's 3G (CDMA) network is so much slower than its 4G network.

By contrast, AT&T won the downlink LTE test (9.12 Mbps vs. 7.35 Mbps from Verizon), and also won PC World's honors for best LTE carrier.  While the testers took issue with AT&T's coverage, which is still relatively small (~70 million Americans), they praise AT&T's pairing of HSPA+ and LTE, which allows for smoother handoffs when the faster 4G signal cuts out.  They suggested that videos or other streaming content may stutter on Verizon when they lose 4G, but will continue to play smoothly on AT&T.

Overall the tests indicate AT&T and T-Mobile to be the best choices from a data perspective, with Verizon getting small honors for its wide LTE coverage and fast data speeds for LTE.  Sprint was the only wholesale loser -- its 3G was the slowest out there and its 4G WiMAX was slower than AT&T and T-Mobile's HSPA+ advanced 3G.

Source: PCWorld

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I can vouch for this
By Solandri on 4/18/2012 3:01:02 PM , Rating: 5
I used to get about 1 Mbps down on Sprint's 3G, 256-512 kbps up. Now it's rare for me to see anything higher than 384 kbps down, and frequently I'm puttering around at 128 kbps down. Sometimes my upload speed is higher than my download speed.

4G used to be 8-10 Mbps down when it was new. Now I only get about 1-2 Mbps down.

Fortunately about 98% of my phone's data use is over wifi. And my ancient grandfathered unlimited data plan with Sprint is about the same price as non-data plans on other carriers. Otherwise, I would switch. As it is, I'm willing to wait another year, but will be re-evaluating when I change phones.

RE: I can vouch for this
By Reclaimer77 on 4/18/2012 3:13:29 PM , Rating: 2
I assumed when I got my first smartphone last year that I would need an "unlimited" data plan so I went with Sprint. It was an impulse decision I regret. Of course public WiFi access has exploded since then too, something I couldn't have predicted.

Sprint's WiMax network has truly been the bane of my existence since that day. The 4G on a good day is "okay", and when I can't get 4G coverage Sprints 3G performance is literally worst than a 56K dial-up modem.

It's not so much the speed that's the issue, but the horrendous latency which makes whatever speed you're getting almost irrelevant anyway. Seriously it's not in the milliseconds but in the SECONDS.

On paper I have the best plan with Sprint, but the unreliability and 4G issues are so common place now that it's seriously becoming an issue that I feel I cannot abide for another 2 year contract.

Sprint would not have unlimited data if they had a competitive network.

RE: I can vouch for this
By Brandon Hill on 4/18/2012 3:07:53 PM , Rating: 2
1) What phone do you have?
2) Is the service bad enough that you'd consider paying an ETF to bail?

RE: I can vouch for this
By Reclaimer77 on 4/18/2012 3:26:06 PM , Rating: 2
1) Galaxy S II.
2) Hmmm tough question. I think I would rather tough it out and wait for the Galaxy S III to come out before I do any major changes to my cellular service.

If I didn't work in Charlotte, which has decent Sprint 4G coverage as apposed to where my house is in the next town over, #2 would very well be a "YES".

But one thing is for certain. I will NOT be going back with Sprint again.

RE: I can vouch for this
By mcnabney on 4/18/12, Rating: 0
RE: I can vouch for this
By TheRequiem on 4/18/2012 5:37:58 PM , Rating: 2
I think this test is inaccurate for multiple reasons. Yes, Sprint did not perform well in it's test, they are in the process of shutting down Nextel and trasitioning tens of thousands of towers for a rapid rollout of their next-generation network, so in a sense, they 'know' their network isn't up to par at this very second. However, the new technology they have co-developed with Samsung and Ericson - see LTE-Release 10 and Sprint Network Vision - will be one of the most capable and modern networks in the world when it is put into operation. The LTE speeds and improved 3G speeds are ridiculously fast (3G as fast as WiMAX and LTE easily besting the fastest of spee tests for LTE right now, see youtub)and the capacity of this new network is amazing, it's 100 times better then it was. Not to mention rollout on 800mhz, which will literally blanket the country with service. When they did all these tests and were testing Clearwires wimax 4g... which is a bit of a redundancy. In a year, these numbers will greatly change. I'd wait for more accurate results from the new network.

RE: I can vouch for this
By TheRequiem on 4/18/2012 5:45:48 PM , Rating: 2
Besides, Verizon's 3G speeds are only marginally better and they are supposed to be number 1 or whatever... a whole 150 kbps more, wow, Smokin'! Well worth $35 extra a month...

RE: I can vouch for this
By cknobman on 4/18/2012 3:44:09 PM , Rating: 2
I have been on Sprint for the last 3 years and historically I could say that these numbers are reflective of my families experience. There was a time in 2010 where full bars my 3g still would not pull more than 40k down. My 4G was pretty spotty and rarely achieved over 4Mb down.


In the last 6 months I have noticed a significant increase in 3g speeds (4g has largely stayed the same ie. spotty). Now 3g consistently gets .8-1.2Mb down. Sure its still not as fast as TMobile or ATT but it is as fast as Verizon and certainly much better than it was.

I am not renewing any of my phone line agreements until Sprints LTE deployment. I want to see how that goes. If it is slow or they institute data caps then I will jump ship.

RE: I can vouch for this
By Jedi2155 on 4/18/2012 4:17:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'm in a similar boat. Got my Samsung Epic 4G beginning of Nov. 2010, and while my 4G speeds have stayed relatively constant (between 3-7 mbps) in the areas that have it, there has been NO increase in coverage so I'm stuck with a lot of cells and handovers while using it. Add the fact that the 4G->3G handovers are excruciatingly slow and typically cause my connection to drop out entirely makes the extra speed near pointless (which happens a lot as a passenger in a vehicle).

Their 3G speeds were horrendous when I started out at around 200-400 kbps typically, now I'm seeing as much as 1-1.2 mbps regularly.

I am definitely planning on switching carriers come this fall. Whether its AT&T or Verizon, as much as I hate them as a company, they have more reliable speeds.

RE: I can vouch for this
By Akrovah on 4/19/2012 12:30:52 PM , Rating: 2
This has pretty much been my exact experience as well. Got my first smartphone last year, went with Sprint for thier unlimited data, and have been beating my head against the wall ever since. Half the time I don't even get a Spritn signal and I end up roaming, even in an area that Sprint claims to have decent coverage.

Deffinitly switching carries when my contract is up.

RE: I can vouch for this
By GuinnessKMF on 4/18/2012 3:34:48 PM , Rating: 2
Just thought I'd run speedtest.

My results for Cambridge, MA (says it was going to Wilson NC)
3G - 506ms ping, 486kbps down, 297kbps up
4G - 136ms ping, 629kbps down, 718kbps up

Most of the time I will just stay in 3G mode for the sake of my battery.

That's really disappointing, when I got Sprint about a year ago I was very happy with it, seems it's degrading. Can't you get out of early termination fees for issues like this?

RE: I can vouch for this
By GuinnessKMF on 4/18/2012 5:15:23 PM , Rating: 2
The more I look at those numbers I have to assume that it's not connected to 4G for me, I'll try again later but it looks like my 4G numbers are still 4G. (It was consistent though, turning 4G on improved things but I still don't think it connected to the 4G network)

RE: I can vouch for this
By immortalsly on 4/18/2012 6:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
I get similar dismal 3G results everywhere. But at my work near Norwood, 4G on Speedtest usually shows 2-6 down, and 500kbps-1.5 up. It's nice to get the 4G boost but I'd be a lot happier if Sprint could just improve their overall 3G.

On a side note, I just went off-contract with Sprint a couple weeks ago. It was quite a surprise to receive a personal hand-written card from "Debbie" from Texas wanting to make sure that I'm a happy. To show Sprint's appreciation, the card included a 25% discount off any Sprint accessory. Nice gesture, Sprint, but even 25% off your accessories are rip-offs...

RE: I can vouch for this
By AmbroseAthan on 4/18/2012 3:42:14 PM , Rating: 2
I can't be too upset with Sprint for my geo-area (NYC). I have had 4G now for almost 2 years in NYC, so before most of the other providers. I just did a SpeedTest now and got the below on 4G:

--4G, 1-2 (of 3) bars signal where I sit in my office.
--102ms ping, 4.294Mbps down, 1.355Mbps up.

When I am in a full strong 3/3 bars signal, tests tend to be 8-10Mbps down with about 2-3Mbps up. Hulu & Netflix and Pandora all stream just fine on 1/3 signal, and I tend to burn through 30+ GB of a data a month. So until the others offer unlimited data, I'll take "slow" 4G with no cap as I haven't run into any streaming issues with it yet.

RE: I can vouch for this
By AmbroseAthan on 4/18/2012 3:47:19 PM , Rating: 2
Should have included this in my first reply.

3G test was the below: (6/6 signal)
90ms ping, 1.289 Mbps down, 0.854 Mbps up

RE: I can vouch for this
By Adam M on 4/18/2012 5:26:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm in the same boat. I got the EVO 4G in 2010. Denver was one of their first WIMAX cities but they were slow to roll it out to the greater metro area. I moved to a new apartment in November where I topped out at about 9 Mbps. A week later the were doing "improvements" in my area which lasted into March, during which I had no 4g and the 3g was horrid. I am teetering between paying the EFT and flashing to Boost or Cricket and getting WIFI at home OR staying with Sprint for the EVO LTE with the hopes that they roll out LTE in Denver. The speeds would have to be amazing. Unlimited crap is still just crap.

RE: I can vouch for this
By mcnabney on 4/19/2012 9:31:56 AM , Rating: 2
What do you think causes the slow speeds on Sprint? As long as they are unlimited you can expect slow speeds. People think that tiered billing / paying for GBs is just to enrich the provider. The real reason is to prevent heavy users that are constantly downloading (bittorrent) from bleeding the speed from all users. Oh, and the carrier does get a little more money, but ultimately that isn't the purpose. Controlling the hogs maintain service for all.

RE: I can vouch for this
By Wererat on 4/20/2012 12:52:03 PM , Rating: 2
"Fortunately about 98% of my phone's data use is over wifi."

I've realized this trend; everywhere I need data, I'm connected by wifi.

I've therefore reverted to a phone-only phone and bought a tablet with the $ I'm *not* spending on data plans for the family.

Sure, I no longer have the luxury of browsing or whatever in mid-journey, but a) I'm not usually on the road that long; and b) if I am, I'm driving.

IMO the cell providers, all of them, have failed. Coffee shops, airports, restaurants, bars, libraries, and a thousand other wifi spots have beaten them to actually delivering connectivity on the go.

ATT & VZW: Not Really 4G, either
By pnolan on 4/18/2012 7:34:48 PM , Rating: 4
For all you technical diehards fussing over which networks are 3G or 4G, you should know that ATT and VZW's LTE networks aren't really 4G networks as strictly defined, either. While true 4G will be on the LTE platform and not the UMTS platform, current LTE technology does not meet the currently defined specs for 4G. In fact, the 4G specs aren't even complete.

Also, VZWs legacy network is actually not 3G, it is 2G. It is the exact equivalent of HSPA on 3G. The increases in throughput are a result of the two being more efficient in their transmission, but it doesn't change the fact that the 2G CDMA2000 network is still 2G and the 3G UMTS network is still 3G.

So, the 3G 4G discussion is kind of futile for the foreseeable future. So, it would make sense that you should be concerned about your throughput and not the 3G/4G label.

And yes, I know 3GPP relaxed the definition of 4G so everybody could slap the label on their networks. It doesn't change my point. Please don't bother trying to correct me on that one.

By Akrovah on 4/19/2012 1:03:22 PM , Rating: 2
While you are technically correct, that doesn't change the fact that the LTE networks currently being labeled "4G" still offer a signifigant speed boost over older GSM and CDMA networks. So while they may not be real 4G yet, the term 4G CAN still be used as an identifier to distinguish download bandwidth on mobile phones, and people can still have a discussion over which is the better (not really)4G tech.

By ElFenix on 4/24/2012 1:30:19 AM , Rating: 2
CDMA2000 meets the ITU's IMT-2000 specification. IMT-2000 is 3G, just as IMT-Advanced is 4G. So CDMA2000 is 3G. cdmaOne was the 2G predecessor.

4G speed
By TheNuts on 4/19/2012 1:23:53 PM , Rating: 2
They just lit up 4G in my area (South Central PA) last week. With my Version Samsung Nexu and teh app, I am getting 14.5Mb down and 1.5Mb up

RE: 4G speed
By TheNuts on 4/19/2012 1:26:19 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, I suck at spell check. *Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus

RE: 4G speed
By TheNuts on 4/19/2012 1:32:01 PM , Rating: 2
Going through the web browser to Speakeasy, I got 17Mb down and 6Mb up :)

By excrucio on 4/18/2012 3:22:04 PM , Rating: 3
Tmobile tested their 4g on an HSPA+ network, so technically, they aren't 4g at all, yet they put up a fight?

The question is if Tmobile will ever go LTE for full speeds will they rape the other contestants?

I am happy with their network, never had issues. Regardless if I lose 4g signal in rural areas. I use WiFi most of the time, and their wifi calls and texts are awesome. Something most carriers lack.

I think in pricing and for what they offer, they are winners. Would hate if ATT tried a merger ever again.

RE: Tmobile
By DanDaManJC on 4/19/2012 12:33:22 PM , Rating: 2
T-Mobile is rolling out LTE! It was announced during the last quarterly earnings call

New Math
By kingmotley on 4/18/2012 3:03:57 PM , Rating: 2
Sprint's WiMAX 4G was so slow it was beat by most of the other carriers' 3G networks.

Since when is getting beat by one (out of 3) considered "most"?

RE: New Math
By Brandon Hill on 4/18/2012 3:05:21 PM , Rating: 2

Not worth the cost
By Dug on 4/20/2012 1:14:24 AM , Rating: 2
I don't care what speed you get. The faster it is, the quicker you go through your data plan.
So you aren't really getting anything more, just quicker.

What these places want is to make you believe that you need this speed. Good Lord, what is so important, that you need the data so fast. Do you really need that kind of speed while your not at home or any other millions of free hot spots?

When I was growing up, we actually had to call using a phone, and if we couldn't get a hold of someone, we had to wait. Maybe this generation should look at patience instead of constant consumption of junk.

RE: Not worth the cost
By bodar on 4/20/2012 7:53:11 AM , Rating: 2
Ahh yes, the "Back in my day" argument. While I agree that there are diminishing returns on bandwidth, it's really about getting done with what you're trying to do and moving on with your life. It just makes it a more enjoyable experience overall. And who's to say it's just kids downloading dumb YouTube videos? Mobile internet is very useful for business as well.

I can attest that Sprint speeds are terrible in Honolulu. I get 100-200kbps down on 3G and around 1.5Mbps on 4G, but the 4G coverage is often spotty.

Bububub Unlimited...
By Arsynic on 4/18/2012 3:54:44 PM , Rating: 2
Now we know

Chiming in
By One43637 on 4/18/2012 4:53:22 PM , Rating: 2
T-Mo Sensation with fake 4G (HSPA+)

ping - 59ms
down - 3.07Mbps
up - 3.42Mbps

I said goodbye to the big V
By 1ceTr0n on 4/18/2012 9:38:13 PM , Rating: 2
After all these years of being with them and up until recently, had a Droid X as my first smartphone. Was pretty happy over all with them other then crappy pricing on plans. Well, once I saw that beautiful Samsung Galaxy Note and found that Verizon has no plans to carry it, I signed up with AT&T last week and got a sexy white Galaxy Note from Costco.

Just got itfrom UPS earlier and it man, it is freaking sexy! Its so fast and smooth compared to my Droid X and the screen is orgasmic! And a bonus, I now have 4G speeds were as with Verizon, I was still on 3G! The S pen is alot of fun to play with and its so nice to surf the web on this big screen! Bye bye Droid and Verizon!

Except in NYC
By mac2j on 4/18/2012 10:42:43 PM , Rating: 2
Where Sprint has always been great and was the fastest for DLs by a factor of 8 over AT&T. The summary charts really hide very significant regional variation.

By Mourer2007 on 4/19/2012 1:51:21 AM , Rating: 2
I live in howard city, MI. We have had verizons 3g for years and got att's 3g/hspa+ about 2 years ago. Speeds here are much higher than anything else I see people post.

My ATT (Used Inspire 4g and Thrill 4g) (Used speedtest app)
Both latencys varied between 100-120ms
Download speeds have been sitting solid on 5mbps+ and upload speeds are always 2mbps sometimes 2.5mbps. Even driving on the highway at 65mph i was still able to get 4.5mbps on my dads iphone 3gs.

My LG Chocolate (Very first generation) on verizon (doesnt even have a tethering option, hacked it to tether back in 05)
Latency was around 310ms sometimes 340s
Downspeeds are around 1.8 to 2.4mbps and up speeds are usually around .5 to 1 mbps.

Sprints service is identical (Roaming on Verizons Towers.)

Also for SHHT's and giggles I tethered my laptop in my truck with my thrill 4g and was able to play world of warcraft perfectly fine with no latency issues all the way from howard city to lansing.

Speed isn't that important...
By jmunjr on 4/19/2012 3:06:07 AM , Rating: 2
Many of the speeds we get on our phone are much faster than what we get at home. 3Mbps vs 8Mbps is going to yield negligible real-world differences for most mobile users... It isn't like that many are downloading huge amounts of data on our phones. That being said it is good to see the competition and hopefully we'll see bandwidth continue to increase in the future.

By dstephens80 on 4/19/2012 11:28:48 AM , Rating: 2
STL here and I get 1,713kbp/s down and 569kbp/s up at 221ms latency with only 3 bars of 3G. On 4g I get 7,168kbp/s down and 1,108kbp/s up at 219ms latency with only 2 bars of 4G. I agree with whoever posted before me that this report masks regional speeds as I believe that Sprint is the fastest here in STL.

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