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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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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.

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