LTE speeds and performance


by Mike Dano

While LTE is sold by infrastructure vendors as a way to allow operators to use their spectrum more efficiently, operators sell LTE services to consumers as a way to improve users' data speeds. 

Just how fast is LTE? RootMetrics offers this handy chart showing how much faster LTE is on average than most of the nation's 3G networks:

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And how do these speeds compare with the speeds available previously through wireless? And perhaps more importantly, how do these speeds compare with the speeds available on a wired connection? Rysavy Research, via 4G Americas, provides this answer:

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To be clear, wireless network speeds are contingent on a wide range of factors including distance from the cell site, backhaul, congestion, network technology, signal propagation, location, network capacity, spectrum depth and other elements. Thus, one LTE network is not necessarily the same as another. 

For example, the nation's top three major wireless LTE network providers have very different ways of explaining their LTE speeds to consumers--which is a result of the different network designs they employ. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) offers LTE through its 700 MHz spectrum in 10x10 MHz channels. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) offers LTE through 700 MHz and AWS spectrum in channels that range from 10x10 MHz to 5x5 MHz. And Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) offers LTE through its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum in 5x5 MHz channels.

In terms of speeds, Sprint spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy said customers can expect real-world average downlink speeds of 6-8 Mbps with peak speeds of up to 25 Mbps, and average uplink speeds of 2-3 Mbps. In the past, Sprint executives have said the company's LTE network will deliver speeds comparable to those of Verizon and AT&T, which advertise average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps and uplink speeds of 2-5 Mbps.

Today, each carrier promotes their LTE network speeds to users in slightly different ways. 

Sprint has opted to promote the speed of its LTE network in comparison with its WiMAX and 3G networks:

Verizon advertises the speeds of its network in comparison with its major rivals:

Verizon only notes that its figures come from "third party tests of carriers' 4G networks (including 4G LTE, where available)." It does not provide specifics.

And AT&T Mobility doesn't provide any specifics, noting only that its LTE network is 10 times faster than its 3G service.