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3G/4G wireless network latency: Comparing Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in February 2014

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It's no secret that a significant amount of attention and interest has been paid to wireless network speeds in the United States and globally. And LTE networks clearly provide faster download speeds than 3G networks.

However, relatively little attention has been paid to 3G and LTE latency speeds--which is notable considering a number of operators have pointed to improved latency as a major reason behind the push to LTE. Indeed, when Verizon announced its LTE deployment in 2010, the operator boasted that "the user plane latency achieved in LTE is approximately 1/2 (one-half) corresponding latency in existing 3G technologies. This provides a direct service advantage for highly immersive and interactive application environments, such as multiplayer gaming and rich multimedia communications."

Latency is defined as the time it takes for a source to send a packet of data to a receiver. Latency is typically measured in milliseconds. The lower the latency (the fewer the milliseconds), the better the network performance.

FierceWireless, with partner OpenSignal, is hoping to shed some light onto the latency issue. Every month, we report the network latency speeds of the Tier 1 U.S. wireless carriers. (Click here for October's numbers, here for November's numbers, here for December's numbers and here for January's numbers.)

Below you'll find charts showing exactly how the carriers stacked up against each other in January across their different network technologies, from LTE to EV-DO Rev. A to eHRPD (a software solution that allows Verizon and Sprint to use existing CDMA towers to pass data packets over to the LTE network) to HSPAP (part of the HSPA upgrade path) to HSPA. You'll also find the raw data collected by OpenSignal that the charts are based on.

In the below charts, Sprint continued to post the highest latency speeds in LTE transmissions. This is likely due to the current configuration of Sprint's LTE network, which generally relies on a 5x5 MHz configuration while other carriers use 10x10 MHz or even 20x20 MHz settings. However, Sprint has promised to dramatically improve its network speeds with the deployment of its Sprint Spark tri-mode LTE network technology, which Sprint has said will result in speeds of up to 60 Mbps today and as much as 150 Mbps or more in the future. Sprint claims it will accomplish this using carrier aggregation. Meanwhile, T-Mobile managed to post the lowest latency speeds in LTE, just edging past AT&T Mobility. Verizon Wireless came in third, though that too could change as Verizon deploys its AWS spectrum.

OpenSignal uses a panel of more than 1 million consumer devices to provide real world data on the performance and coverage of mobile networks. For the latency test, OpenSignal runs three ICMP pings on google.com and takes the average. For more information on OpenSignal and its offerings, click here.

Tier 1 U.S. carrier network latency in LTE networks in February:

Tier 1 U.S. carrier network latency across 3G networks in February:

Tier 1 U.S. carrier network latency across all high-speed wireless networks in February:

The raw data (February):

Operator Network Type Mean Latency (ms)
AT&T HSPA 131.3357
AT&T HSPA+ 123.2122
AT&T LTE 78.91807
AT&T UMTS 127.596
Sprint eHRPD 163.3183
Sprint EVDO A 160.9537
Sprint LTE 99.95355
T-Mobile HSPA 134.3406
T-Mobile HSPA+ 111.9157
T-Mobile LTE 78.03937
T-Mobile UMTS 104.3054
Verizon eHRPD 145.5686
Verizon EVDO A 137.6714
Verizon LTE 85.14403

 

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