3G/4G wireless network latency: How did Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile compare in November?


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 that comes as no surprise: LTE networks provide significantly faster download speeds than 3G networks.

However, relatively little attention has been paid to 3G and LTE latency speeds in wireless--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'll report the network latency speeds of the Tier 1 U.S. wireless carriers. (Click here for October's numbers.)

Below you'll find charts showing exactly how the carriers stacked up against each other in November across their different network technologies, from LTE to EV-DO Rev. A to eHRPD (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 continues to post the highest latency speeds in LTE transmissions, as it did in October. However, AT&T Mobility managed to draw even with T-Mobile US in terms of LTE latency, removing the gap between the two GSM-based carriers in last month's numbers. Indeed, AT&T managed to pull ahead of T-Mobile in some 3G measurements. As for Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, it continued to show relatively stable latency figures--notable considering the carrier recently admitted to capacity constraints on its LTE network in some markets.

OpenSignal uses a panel of over 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 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 November:

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

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

The raw data (November):

Operator Network Type Mean Latency (ms)
AT&T HSPA 125.3942
AT&T HSPA+ 120.9739
AT&T LTE 83.57946
AT&T UMTS 120.8135
Sprint EVDO A 169.8543
Sprint LTE 102.9419
Sprint eHRPD 188.0025
T-Mobile HSPA 134.0932
T-Mobile HSPA+ 106.9678
T-Mobile LTE 83.88289
T-Mobile UMTS 111.1998
Verizon EVDO A 128.5521
Verizon LTE 90.0526
Verizon eHRPD 159.0284