Since last year’s comparison, every major telecom provider has launched what they’ve chosen to call 4G.
While the technical definition of 4G changes based on who you ask, it hard to argue that each provider’s 4G speeds aren’t significantly faster than their respective 3G speeds.
As PCWorld pointed out in March:
The major wireless carriers, as a group, have increased their average download speeds for laptop-modem users by more than threefold, an apparent result of their urgent transition from 3G to 4G network technology.
Here, I compare the AT&T, Clear, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile’s 4G mobile broadband in an infographic based on 4 factors:
- 4G Speed
- 4G Coverage
- 4G Plans
- 4G Devices
Without further ado, here’s the 4G Mobile Broadband Comparison:
(click for an enlarged version)
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By pitting data sourced from PCWorld’s extensive 4G speed tests against carriers’ advertised 4G speeds, it’s easy to see that virtually every provider (with the exception of Verizon) leave a lot to be desired.
It is important to note, however, that Verizon’s 4G network is the newest of the bunch and as such may have the lightest load thanks to fewer 4G device users (including smartphones).
As it currently stands, Verizon is the clear winner for the fastest 4G speed.
When it comes to 4G coverage, T-Mobile’s current marketing claim of the largest 4G network holds true with 100 cities (and growing).
Next in line are Sprint & Clear with 82 cities.
While Sprint/Clear’s 4G city growth rate has slowed significantly this year, the pace may be increased thanks to a recent agreement between the two parties to settle their differences.
Next up is Verizon, who recently announced a whole slew of cities to be launched by the end of 2011 as they march towards nationwide 4G coverage by 2013.
Late to the game with HSPA+ coverage is AT&T.
With plans to also launch LTE mid-2011, expanding both networks simultaneously will require some serious capital investment.
While they are in the midst of getting approval for their acquisition of T-Mobile, they’ve got a lot on their plate.
If you’re in a WiMAX city, choosing Clear/Sprint 4G will be the way to go for unlimited mobile broadband.
However, if not, the next best option will be Verizon who offers faster speeds for the same price at the 5 GB level or $5 cheaper than T-Mobile for the more data intensive bunch at 10 GB.
While T-Mobile is upgrading their theoretical speeds to 42 Mbps from 21 Mbps in a few cities, the 4G speed section illustrates that theoretical speed isn’t translating very well into actual speeds.
Unless this changes, charging $5 more than Verizon’s 10 GB won’t be justified.
While each provider has a decent offering of 4G devices (excluding smartphones and netbooks), the mobile broadband crowd that aren’t tablet focused may find AT&T, Clear & T-Mobile’s selection to be particularly limiting when compared to Sprint and Verizon.
The difference maker?
4G mobile hotspots.
Sprint and Verizon both provide 2 recent additions to their mobile hotspot line allowing connections for anywhere between 5 and 8 devices depending on the device.
While Clear also offers a similar hotspot, that device lacks a 3G chip and thus restricts it to regional 4G coverage as opposed to expanded 3G coverage as all devices on Sprint and Verizon boast.
Who Should You Pick?
It all depends on what your priorities are.
If primarily interested in unlimited mobile broadband, the choice lies between Sprint & Clear providing that 4G coverage is in your city. If it is, then you could save $5 using Clear or get a richer device selection from Sprint.
If primarily interested in 4G speed, then Verizon is the clear choice with T-Mobile making promising moves to be an excellent 2nd choice and even a 1st choice if located in one of their newer 42 Mbps theoretical speed coverage areas.
If 4G coverage is the top priority, then T-Mobile will be your 1st choice followed by Sprint/Clear.
Naturally, things won’t be that black and white for some. Rather, you’ll need to strike a balance between speed, coverage, price and devices.
To help you along with delving into the details, see the detailed reviews on each of the providers below.
In each review, I cover 4G plans, 4G speed, 4G coverage and 4G devices in greater detail:
Who’s your mobile broadband provider? How’ve they been treating you?