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Sprint 4G LTE network tested ahead of launch, not perfect but found promising

June 19, 2012

Sprint, the nation’s third largest mobile operator will also be the third carrier of the Big Four to roll out its 4G LTE network in the country, with the company expected to turn on its high-speed data network in six U.S. cities including Atlanta, Baltimor, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio by the end of the year.

In case you’re wondering, Sprint already has a variety of LTE-ready smartphones, and just as expected they’re all Android devices. However, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the LG Viper 4G and the HTV EVO 4G can only take advantage of Sprint’s 3G network, which is rather slow when compared to the competition. And lets not forget that Sprint’s Samsung Galaxy S3 with 4G LTE support is coming soon.

It’s also worth mentioning that Sprint still allows subscribers to subscribe to unlimited data plans, which puts more strain on its 3G network, so moving to 4G LTE should help the carrier offer better data services to its hardcore mobile web users. But how does the new Sprint 4G LTE network fare when pitted against the competition, namely AT&T and Verizon? PCMag had the opportunity of testing the new network using an LG Viper 4G and two applications, “the Sensorly speed test app and the Ookla app.”

The publication used the same apps to test Verizon’s and AT&T’s LTE networks, but they did so in regular conditions (with “ordinary retail phones on loaded networks”) without alerting the carriers that speed tests were being conducted in certain markets. With Sprint’s network, PCMag tested the 4G LTE connectivity on phones “tuned by Sprint’s engineering team at pre-approved locations.” Therefore, the tests are not entirely conclusive, and we’ll probably have to wait for a second round of testing to take place once the network is launched to draw a more objective conclusion.

Nevertheless, Sprint’s LTE network looks quite promising, and while it’s not as fast as AT&T’s or Verizon’s LTE networks in certain markets, it certainly looks like the carrier is ready to move to 4G LTE and further upgrade the network. Here’s what PCMag found during testing:

Sprint’s LTE network is faster than its old WiMAX network. It’s a bit faster than T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 21, and it’s about 25 times as fast as Sprint’s 3G network. But it doesn’t quite match AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE speeds in cities where they have more spectrum. […]
Using the Sensorly software at four of our locations, we got average download speeds between 9 and 13Mbps, which is similar to the speeds in AT&T’s two faster 5MHz channel cities but slower than you see in its 10MHz channel cities. Sprint’s peak download speeds hit 26.5Mbps down, which is as much bandwidth as anyone really needs. That’s also similar to AT&T’s peak speed in a solid 5Mhz city like Raleigh, where we got a 27.8Mbps peak on AT&T. […]
Uploads were on the slow side, but here’s where the test method really becomes an issue. Using our Sensorly test we saw upload speeds averaging 2.19Mbps, once again comparable to AT&T’s 5MHz cities and faster than T-Mobile’s HSPA+ or Sprint’s old WiMAX 4G, but slower than Verizon. The network hit 2.97Mbps for peak uploads.

Have you already purchased a 4G LTE Android handset from Sprint or do you plan to get one?