With the four (but soon to be three, what with yesterday's surprise announcement that AT&T plans to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion) major carriers all trumpeting the respective performance of their own high-speed mobile networks, RootMetrics set out to determine which was truly the speediest by testing 4G-capable phones from each one.
Included in the study were the HTC Thunderbolt running on Verizon's LTE network, the HTC Inspire on AT&T's HSPA+ network, the HTC Evo on Sprint's WiMax network, and the Samsung Galaxy S on T-Mobile's HSPA+21 network. The testing was done solely in Seattle near RootMetrics' offices in Bellevue, Washington.
Though the term 4G is bandied about rather loosely in the industry, for the purposes of the study Metrics referred to each carrier's network as 4G.
Measuring upload and download performance as one part of the test, RootMetrics found that Verizon's LTE delivered the best speeds, averaging between 4 and 14.5 times faster than the competition in downloads and between 4.7 and 49.3 times faster in uploads. Beyond mere speed, though, the test looked at the ability to both achieve and maintain those high speeds. And here, Verizon also scored on top.
RootMetrics discovered that Verizon managed to deliver download speeds above 10 megabits per second almost 90 percent of the time and average upload speeds between 5Mbps and 10Mbps fully 100 percent of the time. Further, Verizon's LTE network was available 100 percent of the time, both in the car and in a fixed location.
In comparison, T-Mobile and Sprint tied statistically for second place overall, though T-Mobile's HSPA+21 network offered a slightly higher average download speed of 4.42Mbps over Sprint's WiMax at 4.4Mbps. T-Mobile's upload speed fared better as well, averaging 1.29Mbps versus Sprint's 605 kilobits per second. Taking up the rear in speed was AT&T's HSPA+ network, which delivered average download speeds of 1.18Mbps and upload speeds of just 123Kbps.
Looking at reliability, RootMetrics was able to access Sprint's network 90 percent of the time and the networks from AT&T and T-Mobile 80 percent of the time. Further, the tests found that WiMax offered the most consistent download and upload speeds after Verizon, followed by T-Mobile and then AT&T.
How do the speeds that RootMetrics found compare with those touted by the carriers themselves?
For its LTE network, Verizon promises average speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps for downloads and 2Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. AT&T points to download speeds up to around 6Mbps. Sprint promises average download speeds of 3Mbps to 6Mbps on its WiMax network. And T-Mobile's testing showed download speeds of close to 5Mbps.
To conduct its tests, RootMetrics drove around Seattle on March 18 with unaltered, off-the-shelf versions of the four smartphones tested, each outfitted with the Android 2.2 operating system. The testers also stopped at certain locations to gauge performance in a fixed location.