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AT&T's 3G network better than Sprint, Verizon

updated 08:20 pm EDT, Tue May 13, 2008

AT&T 3G data network best

With the highly anticipated 3G iPhone release expected next month, a test from ComputerWorld shows AT&T's 3G data network is faster than Sprint's and Verizon's. The magazine test, published on Tuesday, summarized the 3G data networks from each cellular network provider that currently offers the high-speed data service in the US, which can be up to three times faster than the EDGE network. The author used a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and outfitted it with a cellular data network cards from AT&T (LaptopConnect), Sprint (Mobile Broadband) and Verizon (BroadBandAccess). Each was timed for establishing a connection, peak and average download speeds, average upload speeds, the time required to load each vendor's web page and the effect each had on the X300's battery life. All testing took place in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Unfortunately, T-Mobile's 3G network could not yet be included in the test.

AT&T's LaptopConnect network access is via a choice of four cards. Each is free with a two-year contract at a $60 monthly rate for 5GB of data. The Sierra Wireless USBConnect 881 USB card was used in the test, and allowed HSPA access. It was the fastest in all tests, however, posting average download speeds of 755Kbps and an average upload of 484Kbps Peak download hit 1.6Mbps. Connecting took just 3 seconds and once there, a web page took 0.228 seconds to load. Battery consumption split the other two exactly, at 40 minutes.

Sprint's Mobile Broadband is based on Revision A of the EVDO network, and the carrier offers five data cards. Using Novatel Wireless Ovation U727 (about $100) with a $60 monthly fee and two-year commitment, the Sprint option did not impose a set GB limit. Sprint's 3G network was the slowest and hungriest of the group, eating up one hour of the laptop's charge. Average down speeds were 494Kbps, with uploads at 294Kbps. Top speed was 1.2Mbps and connection speeds averaged 3.7 seconds. Web page access was marginally fastest, at 0.224 seconds. The Novatel card sported a GPS receiver and allowed for navigation through online maps.

The Verizon network is identical to Sprint's but achieved higher speeds thanks largely to a more advanced and expensive modem. Out of the 10 cards on offer, a Sierra Wireless USB AirCard 595U was used, setting the tester back $130 with a two-year contract. Monthly fees were similar to the others, at $60 for 5GBs. The speeds were mid-pack, with an average download of 592Kbps and 1.3 peak. Uploads averaged 232Kbps, and connection time took the longest, at 5.6 seconds. Web page loading was marginally slowest, at 0.23 seconds. The battery life of the notebook took the smallest hit, however, at 20 minutes.

The test made general observations that applied to 3G service in general, and not to a particular provider, including varying speeds that could range from maximums one second, to crawls the next on account for the many variables involved, as well as the spotty coverage in certain areas.

by MacNN Staff



  1. bobolicious

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Metered usage... real time might be helpful to encourage 'full disclosure' for that pesky but notorious monthly 'cell phone surprise'...

  1. dagamer34

    Joined: Dec 1969



    $60/month is too much for my blood to spend on mobile broadband. I'm addicted to the Internet, but I'd rather have someone else pay intrastructure costs that cause these insane monthly bills.

  1. mhansenfoto

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It is expensive, but when you're in the field and not near a wi-fi (or your hotel's wi-fi doesn't quite reach your room), that $60/month is a small price to pay. Personally, I've had better luck with Sprint's 3g data.

  1. Beetlebug

    Joined: Dec 1969


    $60 Wireless = $720 YR

    Ok. AT&T may be faster, but there's that 5G limit. Verizon had offered "unlimited" then cancelled users who went past the secret maximum.

    If you're a company needing to push/receive data to reps in the field, this MAY make sense. If $720 a year is no big deal, go for it. But if you want to connect to FaceBook and celebrity news wherever, spend the money on psychiatry.

    Hi-Speed wireless will really make sense when it is an option to consider instead of land lines. THEN you can be connected wherever, AND at home. Only the Sprint service is a credible way to do that now. Buying from iTunes or accepting Apple Updates could easily push you past the ATT/Verizon Max, and into really expensive surcharges.

  1. wkeithg

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Lousy customer support

    For $60/month, I'd expect AT&T's customer service to know when they have a tower outage. I've been unable to connect from work this week - I can connect from other locations - but calls to customer "support" result in bad guidance, bouncing between three difference help desks, no follow-through. Tower outage is NEVER the first thing anyone checks. I used to run a NOCC and I always checked that before I'd make people do other things.

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