A company called RootMetrics recently visited 75 markets, drove 100,00 miles, and performed 500,000 speed tests, all in an effort to find out who has the fastest wireless network in the United States. They discovered that Verizon has the best network, which they frankly should, considering how much they charge their customers. You can expect Big Red to deliver an average download speed of 13 megabits per second down and 7 megabits per second up. AT&T is in second place, with an average of 7 megabits down. And in third place, with plain old 3G networking technology, T-Mobile manages to deliver an average of 5 megabits per second down.
How is this possible? Let’s start with the obvious: T-Mobile has a hair over 30 million customers. Both AT&T and Verizon are hovering in the 100 million subscriber range. Fewer people accessing a network translates to more network resources being available. Why is Verizon the fastest? They turned on their 4G LTE network in Q4 2010, almost two full years ago, meaning they’ve had ample time to build it out. They need to build it out too because those customers unfortunate enough to not be on 4G LTE are stuck on EV-DO, which is capped at a couple of megabits per second.
But how is T-Mobile, with 3G, managing to get close to AT&T’s 4G LTE? T-Mobile is using a technology called DC-HSPA+, which stands for dual carrier high speed packet access. It’s a mouthful, but here’s how it works: You know how you can drink soda out of a glass faster if you use two or more straws? T-Mobile’s 3G network gives you two straws, with each straw capable of delivering 21 megabit per second access, theoretically of course. Real world usage is almost always half that.
So should you switch operators? Not really. If you’re content with what you have, then stick with it. America is huge, and not every operator addresses every market in the same fashion. If you’ve got full bars on AT&T and are fine with the page load times, then why switch?