Like mobile broadband, the definition of 4G changes based on who you ask.
The International Telecommunications Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R, say that three times fast), defines 4G as "a cellular system that must have target peak data rates of up to approximately 100 Mbps for a high mobility connection (read: mobile broadband) and 1 Gbps for low mobility (think: wireless Clear 4G modems that don’t move too much).
With that being said, no U.S. provider offers true 4G service.
T-Mobile, like AT&T, has rebranded HSPA+, an upgraded version of their current HSPA 3G technology, to provide faster speeds while they play catch up in building their new network that runs on the same technology as Verizon’s 4G LTE.
Using HSPA+, they advertise speeds:
"Up to three times faster than standard 3G…Our 4G network offers blazing, theoretical peak download speeds of up to 21 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.7 Mbps."
While that’s definitely faster than their advertised 3G speeds it’s not exactly 100 Mbps.
On the other hand, it is much faster relative to their 3G speeds and can theoretically give Verizon’s LTE, the fastest mobile broadband network on the market, some competition.
What Kind Of 4G Speeds Will You Actually Get?
It all depends on where you are.
Overall, T-Mobile 4G speeds on laptop modems averaged 2.83 Mbps downloading and 0.85 Mbps uploading in PCWorld’s 13 city test.
Because all cities may not have the faster 4G speeds, that average reflects a mixture of 3G and 4G speeds. To get a better idea of the speed you’ll get in your backyard, you’ll want to look at your city specifically.
Laptop & Smartphone 4G Speeds By City
The charts below list the cities in the leftmost column; moving rightward across the chart, you can see the speed averages and network latency times for each of the four wireless networks.
Speeds are expressed in megabits per second (mbps). Latency (or the time it takes a single small packet of data to travel to a network server and back) is represented in milliseconds. We recorded download and upload speeds and latency times during our laptop-modem tests, and download and upload speeds in our smartphone tests.
When it comes to T-Mobile 4G speeds, its important to note that the city-by-city tests weren’t chosen based on where 4G was available. Rather, they were selected to be consistent with previous tests.
As a result, not all cities tested had 4G speeds. When 4G was not available, 3G speeds were tested.
Use the charts below as a 4G speed reference guide only if T-Mobile 4G coverage was available in the city tested.
Clicking on the images below will take you to PCWorld’s enlarged versions.
Bottom-Line on T-Mobile 4G Speeds
More recently, they announced plans to double their theoretical speed from 21 Mbps to 42 Mbps:
By mid-year, T-Mobile expects 140 million Americans in 25 markets to have access to increased 4G speeds.
If they continue to expand their network and devices as rapidly as they’ve increased they do speed, T-Mobile will continue to be a long-time contender (pending their merger with AT&T).
T-Mobile 4G coverage currently covers 100 metro areas and 200 million people across the U.S. Currently, that makes it the largest 4G network.
Also in this review:
- T-Mobile 4G Review
- T-Mobile 4G Plans Review
- T-Mobile 4G Speed Review
- T-Mobile 4G Broadband Cards & Mobile Hotspots Review