3G Speeds Across 17 Cities
The last time we took a look at who has the fastest mobile broadband network, Sprint surprised us and came out on top.
While Sprint still held their own, this time, AT&T and Verizon went head to head for the title of the ‘nation’s fastest 3G network’.
Interestingly enough, the devil is in the details.
While the most recent tests show AT&T as the fastest overall, they may not be the fastest in your backyard. It all depends on where you are.
Furthermore, even when Verizon and Sprint didn’t take the crown for top speed, they did so for reliability (consistent service without interruption or lack of service at all).
So let’s get into the nitty gritty of finding out who’s got the fastest mobile broadband where you live, work and play.
Where Got Tested?
the picture above for a high resolution (1668 x 841) map of where the 3G speed tests were done.The most recent tests were conducted by Gizmodo (in December 2009 covering 12 cities) and PC World (in March 2010 covering 13 cities).
There may be some slight overlap as far as cities are concerned but they represent a nice subsection of the 50 states.
In an effort to give you the best info, I’ve mapped the data onto regional maps as well as a national map for easy referencing.
If you’re interested in super fine street level detail of an above mentioned city, you’ll want to take a look at Gizmodo’s testing results.
For most cities they tested, they chose 5 different locations. If you’re the kind to use mobile broadband in multiple locations this will give you a realistic idea of what to expect in and around your city.
Click on any city for the detailed results (it will take you to their site in a new window).
Baltimore, Boston, New York, Orlando (PC World)
Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Phoenix (PC World)
San Diego, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco/Bay Area (PC World)
How Were The Tests Done?
Our testing regimen was based on the same scheme as last year: We picked five locations in each city, including at least one "downtown" location that was considered a suburb. The selections were arbitrary, or fixed but logical—landmarks, residences, etc. (Note: Due to timing constraints, Chicago and Maui only had three test locations.)
Our hardware consisted of two identical stripped-down Acer Timeline laptops running Windows Vista, and four 3G wireless modems requested from the carriers. We allowed them to make the choice of hardware, simply asking for their "best performing" model. Once up and running, here are the tests we ran:
• Bandwidth & Latency: Speedtest.net – Reports upload and download bandwidth in megabits per second, as well as ping latency in milliseconds. We performed this test five times at each location on each modem.
• Pageload: Hubble images at Wikimedia – A 4.42MB web page with 200 4KB thumbnails, it was fully reloaded three times, and timed using the Firefox plug-in YSlow. The three time readings were averaged.
• Download: Wikimedia’s Abell 2667 galaxy cluster photo – This single 7.48MB JPEG is a clear test of how fast you can download stuff from the cloud, and again, we hard refreshed this file three times, and measured time using YSlow for an accurate human-error-free reading.
We decided to test the three major 3G cellular wireless broadband providers in 13 U.S. cities that we judged to be broadly representative of the locales where most customers are likely to use these services. In each city, we randomly chose 20 test locations, evenly distributed over the metropolitan area. We performed all of our tests inside a parked car.
We created a 1-minute stress test to evaluate the quality and performance of the wireless service. We tested network delay, upload speed, download speed, and reliability, as well as the correlation between "bars of service" and network performance.
We conducted the tests using industry-standard wireless-testing software (Ixia Chariot) running on a Windows XP SP3 laptop. We tested on a laptop, rather than on a smartphone, because we needed the laptop’s processing power to run Ixia’s rigorous 1-minute tests, and because a laptop can test the strengths and weaknesses of the network more accurately than a cell phone can. To connect to each network, we used the latest USB modem from each vendor: AT&T’s USBConnect Option Quicksilver, Sprint’s Sierra Wireless USB 598, and Verizon Wireless’s Novatel Wireless USB 727. All of the client adapters we used came from the respective vendors and were recommended by the outlets where we purchased them.
Download speed: the average speed (in kilobits per second) at which we downloaded random data from a known Internet server during a 1-minute streaming test.
Upload speed: the average speed (in kilobits per second) at which we uploaded random data to a known Internet server during a 1-minute streaming test.
Reliability: the percentage of tests for a given city in which we could detect a signal, connect at a reasonable speed (faster than dial-up), and sustain an uninterrupted connection for the duration of a 1-minute streaming test".
How To Make Sense Of The Mobile Broadband Speed
While that may seem a lot slower than the cable internet speeds you might be used to, it helps to have a real way to put it in context.
Use this speedtest tool to see what speed you have right now. That way, these number will make a lot more sense to you. You’ll see if mobile broadband is half your current speed, about the same or even more.
Find Out Your Current Speed
After finding out your current speed, keep the number in mind so that you can compare it to the other numbers mentioned in this article. It’ll help put things in context.
3G Speed Test Results
1. AT&T (approximately 1400 kbps ~ 1.4 Mbps)
2. Verizon (approximately 877 kbps – 1.3 Mbps)
*3. T-Mobile (approximately 868 kbps – 950 kbps)
*3. Sprint (approximately 795 kbps – 950 kbps)
Detailed City By City Results
Take a look at the details of any of the following cities. Each city had 3 to 5 testing spots (Atlanta, San Francisco/Bay Area, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Maui, New York, Phoenix, Portland,Seattle, Tampa)
Find the high resolution version over at PCWorld and check out the full article for more detailed info.
So Who’s Got The Fastest 3G Network?
To oversimplify things even further, here’s what the ranking would look like if we said we had a ‘winner’ based on download and upload speeds:
Does this mean you should run out and get AT&T? And if they’re not available then run get Verizon?
Like I mentioned before, there’s a number of other things that come into play here. First off, T-Mobile may be the fastest mobile broadband in your city.
Secondly, you’ve got to factor in network reliability. If you look closely at the details of each test, you can see details that give you clues into that (cheat sheet: Sprint and Verizon tend to be the most reliable).
Also, you’ve got to factor in 3G coverage. Speed is great and all but if you’ve got no coverage where you live, work and play then it’s all for naught.
Now go forth and soak up some mobile broadband at 3G speed.
If you decide to get mobile broadband through one of the links below, I do make some money. Just some full disclosure. Besides, every broadband card is free or puts money in your pocket. Talk about win-win.