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

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 everyone knows that LTE networks 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'll report the network latency speeds of the Tier 1 U.S. wireless carriers. (Click here for October's numbers and here for November's numbers.)

Below you'll find charts showing exactly how the carriers stacked up against each other in December 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 continues to post the highest latency speeds in LTE transmissions, as it did in October and in November. This is likely due to the current configuration of Sprint's LTE network, which generally relies on a 5x5 MHz configuration while other carriers move to 10x10 MHz settings. Last month, 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. As for Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, it continued to show relatively stable latency figures, though the latency speeds on its 3G CDMA network showed some slight increases over last month.

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 December:

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

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

The raw data (December):

Operator Network Type Mean Latency (ms)
AT&T HSPA 127.1595
AT&T HSPA+ 121.2536
AT&T LTE 80.26204
AT&T UMTS 115.4831
Sprint eHRPD 181.3382
Sprint EVDO A 166.4586
Sprint LTE 103.0791
T-Mobile HSPA 134.464
T-Mobile HSPA+ 106.9672
T-Mobile LTE 81.59839
T-Mobile UMTS 104.847
Verizon eHRPD 156.8725
Verizon EVDO A 131.9113
Verizon LTE 89.90243


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