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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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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.

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