Massive benchmark shows AT&T fastest mobile network, Verizon most reliable

By on June 17, 2013, 6:30 PM

If you've ever questioned the claims made by big cellular network operators like "America's fastest network", then here's an article just for you. After driving more than 20,000 miles and surveying mobile data speeds across the U.S, PCMag's data shows AT&T has the fastest overall cellular data network while Verizon's proved the most reliable.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile's 4G LTE network received solid marks for speed and reliability, although it continues to be marred by its very limited (but growing) availability. T-Mo's HSPA+ network though (where LTE isn't available) casts a relatively wide net across the states. The carrier's non-LTE offering actually out-maneuvered all other 3G networks when it came to sustained download speeds; however, that same network kept testers waiting when it came to HTTP responses giving AT&T a palpable edge during some scenarios.

Like T-Mo, Sprint's LTE network is also a work in progress. Unfortunately though, Sprint couldn't keep up with its three biggest competitors in most respects. Even so, Sprint's LTE network was an improvement over PCMag's results from last year, but still managed to lag behind AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile wherever those carriers had 4G LTE options.

PCMag's speed score was based on the following criteria and weights:

  • HTTP download speed (30%)
  • HTTP upload speed (20%)
  • Successful Web page completion in 30 seconds (20%)
  • Web page download speed (10%)
  • HTTP download time to first byte (10%)
  • 500kbps UDP streams with <1% packet loss (10%)

Despite network operators doling out download speeds beyond 60Mbps, much of what's available doesn't allow for high-quality video streaming.

"As I spoke to the carriers before starting Fastest Mobile Networks 2013, they agreed that they were all aiming for at least a consistent 8/4 [8Mbps down, 4Mbps up] experience across their LTE networks." wrote PCMag's Sascha Sagan. "They're far from it. AT&T failed to deliver 8 megabits down at least 20 percent of the time in two thirds of our cities. Verizon did even worse; it only delivered 8Mbps results 80% of the time in Detroit and Indianapolis. And Sprint's hometown of Kansas City was the only place where we saw Sprint LTE exceeding 8Mbps more than half the time."

User Comments: 8

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1 person liked this | psycros psycros said:

This sounds about right. AT&T puts 90% of its infrastructure dollars into flooding the top 100 markets with more bandwidth so you can end up paying overages even quicker. Verizon usually follows suit not long after. Sprint and T-Mo are still better choices if you can get them. What good is blazing speed if you get throttled and/or charged for overages? Esp. when you're paying too much for the service?

soldier1969 soldier1969 said:

Been with AT&T since 2003 and Bellsouth mobility before that for 7 years. Never had issue with them or paid overages that I remember. Unlimited data as well still to this day on my Note 2. Getting 36mbs down 20 up with 4G LTE.

1 person liked this | veLa veLa said:

Truth is that the only two networks that matter are AT&T and Verizon.

JC713 JC713 said:

Bullshit. No way Verizon is the most reliable. This is rigged lol.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Speed is important, but so is price. Sprint claims 'Unlimited Data' but you can't even stream video on their 3G network. That means you pay extra and get less.

I went from paying $110/month for .5 Mpbs on Sprint to $80/month (that includes my phone payment) on TMobile for 11-12Mpbs. TMobile is 20 times faster in Milwaukee. If you paid for service based on speed Sprint should cost $4/Month based on TMo's rates. It's easy to get ripped off with different choices and misleading advertising. And it's not like these carriers publish speeds in major cities for helpful comparisons.

negroplasty negroplasty said:

I'm loving T-Mobile speeds here in Phoenix... Getting blazing fast 30Mbits down 11 up with pings < 50ms. Unlimited data and no throttling... very happy with my provider .

Since it's a N4 and doesn't have "official" LTE aGPS can be a little funky so it says CA but it is AZ.

Guest said:

JC713 said:

Bullshit. No way Verizon is the most reliable. This is rigged lol.

I've had Verizon for the past 10 years and can count the amount of unreliable instances on one hand. Not only that, but when ever I'm hiking or camping, my AT&T/T Mobile buddies never have service and wind up using my phone which still has unlimited data grandfathered in. "lol"

p51d007 said:

I guess I'm not a "typical" user. I use 1500 - 2000 minutes of voice, 1-2 gig of data, 200-300

text messages a month. HSPA+ is fast enough, and I use wi-fi most of the time anyway.

What good is LTE, when you can go over so quickly, and they charge you an arm & a leg for the usage? USA smartphone users get ripped off at every corner.

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