Study: AT&T, T-Mobile top network speed tests

The HSPA+ 21 network of T-Mobile USA and the LTE network of AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) were the nation's fastest "3G" and "4G" networks, respectively, among Tier 1 U.S. carriers, according to a new study from PCWorld.

According to the report, AT&T's LTE network provided the best downlink speeds among 4G networks, topping out at an average of 9.12 Mbps. That bested Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE network, which had average downlink speeds of 7.35 Mbps. However, Verizon's LTE network beat AT&T's in uplink speeds, with an average uplink speed of 5.85 Mbps compared with AT&T's 4.91 Mbps.

The magazine conducted tests on the networks of the four Tier 1 carriers in 13 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The tests were conducted by Novarum, a strategic wireless consulting firm, and used smartphones suggested by the carriers.

Both Verizon and AT&T claim that their LTE networks deliver average downlink speeds of between 5-12 Mbps. Verizon's LTE network currently covers more than 200 million POPs while AT&T's LTE network covers around 74 million POPs. According to the PCWorld study, T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 network, which covers around 184 million POPs, produced average downlink speeds of 5.53 Mbps.

Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) current 4G service is delivered via Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile WiMAX network, which covers 130 million POPs. Clearwire advertises the network as providing downlink speeds of 3-6 Mbps. However, PCWorld found that the WiMAX network delivered average downlink speeds of 2.81 Mbps. Sprint will deploy LTE by mid-year and has promised speeds comparable to those of Verizon and AT&T.

Among "3G" networks, T-Mobile's HSPA+ network performed the best, with average downlink speeds of 3.84 Mbps. AT&T's HSPA+21 network came in second, with average downlink speeds of 2.62 Mbps. Verizon came in third with average speeds of 1.05 Mbps and Sprint came in fourth, with average speeds of 0.59 Mbps.

Many factors can contribute to observed speeds in network speed tests, including the traffic on a particular cell site and whether the test is conducted indoors or outdoors.

AT&T took the publishing of the test results to crow about its LTE network and its fallback HSPA+ network. "We made a decision to roll out ongoing upgrades and invest in our mobile network, on our way to more broadly deployed 4G LTE, so our customers could enjoy fast speeds and the best possible experience," said John Donovan, AT&T's senior executive vice president of technology and network operations. "It's great to see the results of our 4G network strategy in PCWorld's tests and in the feedback we're getting from our customers."

Verizon, which recently launched a "4G Throwdown" advertising campaign to highlight its LTE network speed, disputed the study's findings. "The vast majority of highly regarded third-party studies and tests consistently place Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network and data services ahead of the pack in terms of speed, quality, and reliability," the carrier said in a statement, according to PCWorld. Further, Verizon said concerns that its LTE customers will fall back to a slower CDMA network will soon be moot because Verizon is rapidly expanding its LTE network; the company plans to cover more than 260 million POPs with LTE by year-end.

For more:
- see this PCWorld article

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Article updated April 17 with revised average downlink and uplink speeds for AT&T's LTE network.