Ever have trouble streaming video in HD, browsing the web, or quickly uploading files on your LTE smartphone? We’ve all been there. The promise of 4G LTE smartphones was incredible speed, which they mostly delivered; a good, solid connection can deliver amazing throughput. The only problem? All four major carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint – are still in the process of building out their respective next-gen networks.
Many areas – mostly rural – lack 4G LTE coverage, and rely solely on 3G technology. And when you’re stuck in a 4G dead zone, unless your mobile carrier has excellent infrastructure behind their towers, you’re in for Internet as slow as molasses.
If you’re not going to be connected to 4G LTE all the time, it’s important to know which carrier offers the fastest combination of 3G and 4G. According to tests conducted by Tech Hive, AT&T takes that crown, edging out the others with an average download of 13.15 megabits per second (mbps) and upload of 6.45mbps. Apparently, AT&T’s HSPA+ helped to prop up speeds in areas where LTE wasn’t available.
T-Mobile’s 3G performance was close to AT&T’s, but comparatively poor LTE throughput lowered the carrier in the rankings. Verizon and Sprint, which rely on the aging CDMA standard to deliver 3G, couldn’t compete: speed tests showed average downloads of a third or less as fast as GSM rivals, and similarly slow uploads.
These numbers don’t bode well for those who travel in and out of 4G LTE coverage areas often. If you’re a Verizon customer, you could see a drop in speed of 92%: 9.61mpbs on LTE to less than 0.80mbps on 3G. Sprint’s average drop-off was nearly 90 percent, much higher than seen on GSM networks like AT&T due to, like Verizon, reliance on CDMA.
T-Mobile managed to best maintain download and upload speeds across 3G and 4G with a drop-off of only 62 percent, achieved in part because of a substantial HSPA+ footprint.
4G LTE isn’t everywhere. It’s important to remember to remember 3G, because despite what your smartphone manufacturer might promise, CDMA and HSPA speeds are what you’ll most commonly encounter. The dream of ubiquitous high-speed wireless Internet hasn’t yet been achieved, and until that glorious day comes, know which network’s 3G will keep you humming along until the next LTE tower comes into view.