PCMag hit the road to test 3G and 4G networks in 30 U.S. cities. Before you buy your next phone or tablet, find out which wireless carrier has the fastest data network where you live.
With more than half of all U.S. mobile phone buyers picking smartphones, we’re all relying heavily on wireless Internet. Seven major U.S. wireless carriers are all promising some form of “4G” now or in the near future, but all 4G isn’t the same. So for the third year in a row, we sent drivers out to see the state of the 4G nation and bring home 240,000 lines of data to figure out which network is the fastest near you.
This year we dramatically expanded our testing project, taking three 2013 Ford Taurus cars out to survey 30 U.S. cities. We tested the five largest U.S. carriers: AT&T, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. (For more about the wireless providers, see Different Carriers, Different Strengths.)
We found the situation is even muddier than it was last year, as all the carriers seems to be calling nearly everything 4G. We’d love to say that LTE is the gold standard, but that isn’t always the case, as the slower results from MetroPCS’s LTE network and the speedy downloads on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 network show. (For more about 4G classification and speeds, see How Fast Is 4G?)
Rather, you need to have a solid LTE network with lots of spectrum to win, and it helps if not a lot of people are using it yet. Across our 30 cities, Verizon’s 4G LTE network dueled with AT&T’s new 4G LTE network for supremacy; Verizon won 19 cities while AT&T won 10, and the two carriers tied in one. T-Mobile came surprisingly close for a non-LTE carrier. And the slower results in cities where AT&T and T-Mobile have less spectrum show that the spectrum crunch is real. (For more, see Why Spectrum Matters.)
Not all phones, including Apple’s popular iPhone, support 4G, and the fastest technologies aren’t available in rural areas, either. So we made sure to measure the carriers’ 3G networks as well. (For more, see Which Carrier Has the Fastest iPhone?)
Finally, this is a snapshot of networks in May 2012. Our results are sure to change in 2013 as new LTE networks come on line from Cricket, Sprint and T-Mobile. We got a brief glimpse of what Sprint will have to offer in Atlanta; for more on that, see Testing Sprint’s New 4G LTE Network.
We chose our 30 test cities so they were evenly spread across our six regions, and so we could drive to all of them in three weeks. We also chose so as many of them as possible had the maximum number of 4G networks. We tested 12 of MetroPCS’s 14 LTE cities, 20 of AT&T’s 39 LTE markets, 23 of Sprint’s 70 WiMAX markets, and 30 of Verizon’s 258 4G LTE markets.
Two of the carriers we regularly review declined to participate this year. Cricket currently runs a slow-but-steady 3G network and is installing 4G LTE soon; it’ll return in our 2013 feature. U.S. Cellular has LTE, but its coverage map didn’t mesh well with our travel plans.
The competition is much closer than it looks. Calculating our speed score, we applied a major penalty if a network wasn’t available in one of our test cities. If we only counted the cities where AT&T LTE had coverage, it would have tied Verizon nationally and won the northeast, southeast, and south central regions. But you can’t win if you don’t play, and AT&T’s 39 markets pale when compared with Verizon’s 258-market rollout. (After our testing was complete, AT&T disputed the upload speed results we found on its network.)
Note that we didn’t test call quality, dropped calls, or coverage. These tests are all about data speed. For the best assessment of voice call quality according to our readers, check out our annual Reader’s Choice awards results. To get a picture of wireless coverage near you, download the Sensorly app from the Android Market and you’ll see crowd-sourced coverage maps for all the major U.S. mobile carriers, enhanced with the data from our test drives. (For more, see How We Tested.)
Again, mobile networks are constantly changing, and almost always for the better. And because speeds vary based on tower location, network load, device used, and even the weather, we can’t predict performance in a specific location; rather, we’re giving a snapshot of a few days’ worth of usage in several locations across a metro area. Hit the next page for the regional and national winners
Regional and National Winners
Northeast: Verizon 4G LTE
With a rapidly expanding LTE network covering not only our five test cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC), but smaller ones like New Haven, Harrisburg, and Syracuse, Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the best overall choice across the northeast region. While AT&T’s LTE network delivered higher download speeds where available, Verizon’s system was more widely available and delivered solid reliability across all of our northeast markets.
Southeast: Verizon 4G LTE
With rapidly expanding coverage, especially in the Carolinas, Alabama, and Florida, Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the fastest choice in the southeast. A balance of solid download speeds over 8Mbps and high overall network quality in our test cities (Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Miami) helped it win the award, along with coverage of key cities like Miami where AT&T hasn’t laid in 4G yet.
North Central: Verizon 4G LTE
Verizon has been building out 4G LTE aggressively in the north-central region, covering all five of our test cities (Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Kansas City) as well as large swathes of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. Its broadband speeds make Verizon 4G LTE the best overall choice in this region.
South Central: Verizon 4G LTE
Verizon’s 4G LTE network was the fastest across the five cities of our south central region (Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio), as AT&T took a penalty for not being available in Memphis. Verizon’s 4G LTE network, which is expanding fast in Louisiana, Oklahoma and eastern Texas, delivered excellent speeds across our five cities.
Northwest: Verizon 4G LTE
Verizon’s 4G LTE network won our Northwest region by a hair over T-Mobile, whose HSPA+ 42 network nearly matched LTE on downloads in all five of our test cities (Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle). AT&T’s LTE took major penalties for being available in very few cities across the northwest U.S.
Southwest: Verizon 4G LTE
Verizon’s 4G LTE network delivered the best 4G experience across the five cities in our southwest region (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, and Los Angeles). As we’ve seen elsewhere, Verizon’s overall experience, balancing various network qualities, set the network apart. AT&T’s LTE was spectrum-limited in LA and not available in Tucson.
Once you get outside America’s major metro areas, 4G can be hard to find—unless you have T-Mobile coverage. T-Mobile has brought HSPA+ 42 to most of its national footprint by now, giving it broader 4G reach than the other major carriers. That coverage made T-Mobile HSPA+ by far the fastest of the four national networks we tested outside our 30 major cities. T-Mobile also had the least comprehensive coverage, though, so as always, make sure your carrier of choice covers where you live and work.
National: Verizon 4G LTE
LTE is the gold standard of 4G technologies in the U.S.A., and Verizon’s 4G LTE network is now available in 258 markets across the U.S., dwarfing AT&T’s still-nascent LTE system with 39 cities. AT&T, Sprint, and MetroPCS all suffered major penalties to their speed score for not being available in all 30 of our test cities, but Verizon’s LTE swept the board. With industry-leading coverage and relatively symmetrical speeds, Verizon LTE is the best nationwide 4G choice.
It shouldn’t surprise you that AT&T’s brand-new 4G LTE network wins in the carrier’s hometown; the network posted terrific download speeds as well as high upload speeds and excellent network consistency. Verizon and T-Mobile are also offering 4G in Atlanta, but those networks didn’t measure up to AT&T in our tests.
Worth noting: Atlanta had the single fastest download we saw anywhere in the country, a scorching 56Mbps off Glenwood Avenue in the East Lake neighborhood.
Other than the arrival of AT&T LTE, the most noticeable changes from our 2011 results are that Verizon’s and Sprint’s 4G networks have slowed down a bit, and Sprint’s 3G network has sped up. It’s still the slowest of the networks we tested, but Atlanta is a rare bright spot for Sprint 3G.
We also tested Sprint’s nascent 4G LTE network in Atlanta, getting impressive results usually over 10Mbps down. That network hasn’t launched yet, though.
AT&T and Verizon duke it out over the LTE airwaves in Baltimore, but AT&T’s newer network brings higher download speeds with solid reliability, making AT&T the fastest mobile network in Baltimore. As with many of our cities this year, though, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all deliver what we’d consider to be broadband speeds in Charm City.
We did not test Baltimore in 2011.
The Northeast is now blessed with several good 4G choices. AT&T’s new 4G network delivered breathtaking download speeds of over 21Mbps in Boston, winning our award.
Content creators should look at Verizon’s 4G as well, as it has faster upload speeds. Budget shoppers, meanwhile, should consider T-Mobile. It’s a little less reliable than AT&T and Verizon, but delivers over 8Mbps average download speeds for considerably less money. It’s clear, though, that AT&T’s brand-new 4G network is the one to beat in Boston.
Looking at trends over the past year, T-Mobile and AT&T have both gotten much faster since 2011 by installing HSPA+ 42 and LTE respectively. Sprint’s 4G network averaged faster speeds than 2011 without a hardware upgrade, but Sprint’s 3G network is slower than it was last year. That may reflect Sprint customers moving from 4G EVO devices to 3G iPhones. MetroPCS, AT&T and Verizon 3G have held steady.
Charlotte residents have three great 4G networks to choose from, and AT&T’s new 4G LTE is the best of all. Terrific average download speeds, great upload speeds and solid reliability makes AT&T the clear winner, and its fallback 3G network posted strong results here as well.
Second place goes to not Verizon but T-Mobile, whose HSPA+ 42 network showed very strong download speeds and great reliability in Charlotte. If only T-Mobile’s upload speeds were a bit better, it could have taken the crown.
Compared with last year, Sprint 4G, T-Mobile, and Verizon 3G are all faster than we saw in 2011, and Verizon’s 4G LTE is slower, presumably due to loading up the network. Both T-Mobile and Sprint 4G saw dramatic jumps in speed from 2011 to 2012.
Verizon Wireless wins the award in the Windy City through a well-balanced combination of fast downloads, speedy uploads and excellent reliability. Both AT&T and T-Mobile actually delivered higher download speeds than Verizon 4G LTE, but neither carrier could match the other two parts of our equation, especially Verizon’s 96-99-percent reliability rating. Verizon’s LTE download speeds are half what we saw in 2011, but 8Mbps is still nothing to complain about.
Meanwhile, Sprint clearly needs help in Chicago, as many of our tests didn’t even make the 144kbps threshold to be called “3G.” Sprint’s 3G download speeds crashed between 2011 and 2012, dropping from about 600kbps to more like 400kbps on average.
Last year, Dallas was the nation’s fastest wireless city in our tests. This year things have calmed down a bit, although it’s still in the top ten. AT&T’s new 4G LTE network is the fastest in Dallas, with average download speeds over 14.6Mbps, along with the best network consistency. Both Verizon 4G and T-Mobile deliver average download speeds over 8Mbps, and Verizon 4G as usual has excellent upload speeds, but AT&T is offering the premium experience in Dallas this year.
Since Dallas was already a fast town, there’s less of a jump up in speeds between 2011 and 2012 than we saw in other cities we tested. Verizon’s 4G got slower as more people joined the network, and Sprint’s WiMAX got a bit faster between 2011 and 2012, but neither to a shocking extent.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the fastest overall network in Denver, although T-Mobile posted higher average download speeds. Verizon won the crown because of much faster upload speeds and slightly better network consistency than T-Mobile, but both are very good options in the Denver urban area.
Rocky Mountain residents may also need rural coverage, though. We drove Route 40 through Colorado and Utah, with a few dinosaur-spotting turnoffs, and found Verizon’s and AT&T’s networks more frequently available than Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s on the drive.
Verizon’s 4G LTE takes a commanding lead in Detroit, with average download speeds over 10Mbps and top-notch reliability. Second place goes to T-Mobile, which delivers 8Mbps download speeds but much slower uploads than Verizon, making it more for content consumers than for producers.
T-Mobile got the biggest boost in Detroit between 2011 and 2012; thanks to the arrival of HSPA+ 42, download speeds jumped 35 percent. MetroPCS also saw a nice bump up in speed and reliability from 2011.
We didn’t test Sprint 4G in Detroit this year because it is no longer on Sprint’s official coverage map.
We did not test Denver in 2011.
AT&T’s 4G LTE is the fastest mobile network in Houston, thanks to considerably higher download speeds than rival Verizon Wireless. AT&T’s 3G fallback is also faster than Verizon’s 3G system. That said, Verizon’s 4G LTE offered much better upload speeds than AT&T did, and for budget shoppers, T-Mobile acquitted itself very well with speeds around 8Mbps on its HSPA+ 42 network.
We got one of the nation’s fastest test results in Houston, with AT&T delivering 52.75Mbps down in one test at the Pinemont shopping center in the northeast part of the city.
Indiana’s wireless users are on the speedway; Indianapolis was the fastest city we tested overall. Both AT&T and Verizon have 4G networks with average speeds over 16Mbps; T-Mobile, meanwhile, chugs along at a respectable 7.5Mbps. Verizon and AT&T locked into a near-tie, but Verizon wins the award thanks to much faster upload speeds (over 8Mbps) and slightly better reliability than AT&T’s 4G network shows.
We did not test Indianapolis in 2011.
We did not test Houston in 2011.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network delivers the best 4G in Jacksonville. It’s even better and faster than it was last year, too. Jacksonville isn’t a particularly speedy city for Verizon, but the balance of uploads, downloads and solid reliability makes Verizon 4G the right choice.
T-Mobile comes in a close second, with downloads that are even faster than Verizon’s; it loses out on upload speeds, though. We also found Jacksonville to be a tough city for Sprint coverage, with at least one of Sprint’s two networks failing at several of our locations.
Compared with last year, T-Mobile’s speeds jumped dramatically thanks to the installation of HSPA+ 42. But Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks are also faster than they were last year. MetroPCS and AT&T, meanwhile, were slower than we measured them in 2011.
Kansas City, KS/MO
Kansas City may be Sprint’s home town, but Verizon and AT&T duke it out for LTE dominance on the Kansas-Missouri border, with Verizon winning the award thanks to much faster upload speeds. Sprint’s slow performance is par for the course in our national tests, but the real disappointment here is T-Mobile, which is spectrum-constrained with a mere 10MHz of AWS airwaves to broadcast its 4G network in.
Verizon showed the best improvement between 2011 and 2012 in Kansas City, while Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks held their own. Both AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 3G network posted significant drops in speeds, but better consistency than last year.
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas has many 4G options, but it’s a tough town for high speeds. In aggregate, it was the slowest city we tested overall. Especially in the Strip and downtown, the big casinos create strange reflections that can knock out cellular signals. We spent most of our time away from the Strip, but it didn’t matter; none of the 4G networks topped 8Mbps downloads on average, and we hit dead spots for AT&T, MetroPCS, Sprint and Verizon alike.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the fastest in Las Vegas, leading on most of our measures. It has the fastest downloads, the fastest uploads, good consistency and good building penetration at its low 700MHz frequency.
The good news is, 4G in Las Vegas seems to be getting better. T-Mobile’s download speeds more than doubled with the arrival of HSPA+ 42, and MetroPCS’s speed doubled in Las Vegas as well between 2011 and 2012.
Los Angeles, CA
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is far and away the best choice in Los Angeles. Verizon’s network led on all of our measures, making it the clear winner.
AT&T is spectrum-limited in Los Angeles, with half the radio spectrum Verizon holds for its LTE network; as a result, we saw it had, on average, about half the speed. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 network and Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network both did decently, but not well enough to supplant Verizon’s LTE.
Compared with last year, we see a big boost in T-Mobile’s speeds as it upgraded from HSPA+ 21 to HSPA+ 42. AT&T’s crowded 3G network and Sprint’s 4G network both declined in speed a bit.
Memphis has a pretty slim selection of high-speed networks. There’s no AT&T 4G, no MetroPCS, and T-Mobile is spectrum-limited so it’s stuck at HSPA+ 21. With that sorry situation in place, Verizon’s 4G LTE network stands out like a shining beacon. We got very strong speeds and solid reliability on Verizon’s LTE network around Memphis, vastly outpacing any competitor.
We did not test Memphis in 2011.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the fastest in Miami, thanks to well-balanced upload and download speeds of around 8Mbps each. As we’ve seen elsewhere, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 network almost matched Verizon LTE on download speeds, but fell far short on uploads. We had a lot of reliability issues testing Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks in Miami.
Last year we combined Miami and Fort Lauderdale into a “South Florida” section, and we didn’t test Sprint 4G. The most dramatic changes over the year show T-Mobile doubling its speeds as it jumps from HSPA+ 21 to 42, and Verizon shoring up its 3G network to provide more consistent 1Mbps speeds.
New Orleans, LA
AT&T and Verizon are in tight competition in New Orleans, but ultimately AT&T gets the title of the Big Easy’s fastest mobile network. High average download and upload speeds with reliable streaming results make AT&T 4G LTE the right choice, and as usual, AT&T’s 3G fallback is faster than Verizon’s 3G system.
The fastest spot in New Orleans and its close-in suburbs, we found, was just across the river on the border with Gretna, where we saw 42Mbps downloads with AT&T and 23.8Mbps downloads with Verizon Wireless.
We did not test New Orleans in 2011.
New York, NY
AT&T took a lot of lumps in New York over the past few years, but it’s come back with a brand-new, shiny 4G LTE network that’s probably faster than your Time Warner cable home connection. In 10 tests around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, we scored 16Mbps average downloads on AT&T 4G LTE, making AT&T’s new network the fastest mobile network in New York.
T-Mobile came through as the best budget pick, with 8Mbps speeds that close in on AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE networks, although network reliability didn’t measure up to AT&T’s new system.
Since 2011, T-Mobile has become much faster with the arrival of HSPA+ 42, while Verizon’s 4G LTE network has slowed down a bit as it’s become loaded up with Droids. AT&T’s 3G network has become more reliable and consistent, and Sprint’s 4G network is showing better speeds. Sprint’s 3G system, meanwhile, is still puttering along at under 400kbps, the slowest of all the 3G networks.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network rules Philadelphia, with average download speeds topping 12Mbps and nearly perfect reliability at our 10 locations. Verizon’s 3G network, while slower, was also highly reliable, making it clear that Philadelphia is a Verizon town. Nobody else even comes close.
Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks, Sprint’s 4G, T-Mobile and AT&T 3G have all gotten faster and more consistent in Philly over the past year, with T-Mobile and Verizon 4G showing the greatest year-on-year gains. Sprint’s 3G network is suffering with average speeds of 480kbps, but at least that’s no worse than 2011.
Verizon 4G LTE wins Phoenix in an upset. While AT&T’s 4G LTE offered faster download speeds, we had trouble finding that network in four locations on the north side of town. A bit further south things were different—we got an amazing 43.4Mbps down on AT&T 4G LTE near the Metrocenter Mall, but the experience was inconsistent.
Verizon’s 4G, on the other hand, had nearly perfect availability, coupled with 7.3Mbps download speeds and the fastest upload speeds. That makes Verizon’s 4G LTE a network that folks in Phoenix can truly rely on.
Compared with last year, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have all raised their game; all three carriers are delivering faster downloads than they did in 2011. Only Sprint is hanging back, with download speeds averaging only 300kbps—even slower than we saw in 2011.
Verizon’s 4G LTE rules in Portland, Oregon with average download speeds over 10Mbps and a spectacular 34.8Mbps peak at the corner of SE Grand and SE Main. But T-Mobile wasn’t too shabby either, with average download speeds at 8Mbps and several results over 16Mbps. As usual, Verizon’s LTE network won by posting much faster upload speeds; its LTE uploads are speedier than you’ll see on many home Internet connections.
We did not test Portland in 2011.
It was a very tight battle between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon 4G in Raleigh, North Carolina, but ultimately Verizon 4G LTE wins with upload speeds that are more than twice as fast as its nearest competitor.
This was a war of titans, though, as all three networks posted average download speeds over 9Mbps and peaks over 16Mbps. The network to stay away from is Sprint’s 3G, which averaged a barely-even-3G 248kbps down. A full third of our valid tests on Sprint 3G didn’t even make the 144kbps threshold to be called 3G at all.
We did not test Raleigh last year.
Salt Lake City, UT
Just like in Denver, Verizon 4G LTE wins as the fastest mobile network in Salt Lake City. Although T-Mobile posted higher average download speeds, Verizon LTE had much faster upload speeds and slightly better network consistency.
Rocky Mountain residents may also need rural coverage, though. We drove Route 40 through Colorado and Utah, with a few tourist-attraction turnoffs, and found Verizon’s and AT&T’s networks more frequently available than Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s on the drive.
We did not test Salt Lake City in 2011.
San Antonio, TX
Tie: AT&T 4G LTE and Verizon 4G LTE
It’s a tie! AT&T’s new LTE system offers the fastest download speeds in town, but Verizon’s competing LTE network has better uploads and consistency, resulting in a tight competition for the best-network tag. If our AT&T LTE phone hadn’t fallen down to 3G at some points in San Antonio, AT&T would have clinched it. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ also does well in San Antonio, but both the LTE networks have at least double its upload speeds.
We did not test San Antonio in 2011.
San Diego, CA
Verizon’s 4G LTE network wins the prize in San Diego for its solid combination of speed and consistency. As we’ve seen elsewhere, Verizon’s network delivered strong if not industry-leading download speeds around 8Mbps, along with upload speeds that blew away the competition and nearly 100-percent consistency.
AT&T’s 4G LTE performance was very speedy, but inconsistent; we ran into weak spots in Pacific Beach and downtown. On the other hand, AT&T’s 3G fallback is more than twice as fast as Verizon’s. T-Mobile also did well, but fell short on upload speeds.
Compared with last year, T-Mobile received a major boost as it upgraded from HSPA+ 21 to HSPA+ 42. AT&T’s 3G network slowed down a bit, and the other networks stayed more or less the same.
San Francisco, CA
AT&T’s 4G LTE is the ultimate 4G network in San Francisco, with average download speeds beyond 13Mbps. That’s faster than a lot of home connections. It also posted an absolutely insane maximum speed of 42Mbps at the corner of Polk and Broadway.
We had some trouble getting AT&T LTE coverage in a few locations, though, most notably at 11th and Geary in the Inner Richmond and at Fort Funston. Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s 4G networks were both available at all of our test locations, with download speeds averaging around 7Mbps. That’s still not bad.
Compared with 2011, MetroPCS, Sprint 4G, T-Mobile, and Verizon 3G are notably faster than they were last year; AT&T’s 3G network was noticeably slower. T-Mobile’s speed doubled because of the move from HSPA+ 21 to HSPA+ 42.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is the fastest in Seattle thanks to a solid combination of download speeds, upload speeds, and network consistency. T-Mobile actually delivered higher average download speeds, but Verizon’s much faster upload speeds won the day.
On the other end of the scale, Sprint’s 3G network is clearly getting hammered in Seattle. While the network was typically available, it was extremely slow, with average download speeds under 350kbps and many tests not even hitting the 144kbps minimum to be considered 3G. Sprint’s new LTE network can’t come to Seattle quickly enough.
We did not test Seattle in 2011.
St. Louis, MO
Verizon’s 4G LTE network wins St. Louis handily with the fastest downloads, the fastest uploads, and strong overall reliability. While St. Louis has an excellent selection of 4G networks, both AT&T’s LTE network and especially T-Mobile’s are slower here than we saw in other places in the country. T-Mobile is spectrum-limited in St. Louis, with only 10MHz of the AWS spectrum it runs its 4G network on; that explains its comparatively weak performance.
The changes we saw in St. Louis between 2011 and 2012 bucked some national trends. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile all posted slower 3G download speeds this year than last, while Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks got faster and maintained consistency.
Verizon 4G LTE is the fastest network in Tucson thanks to a solid balance of speeds and network consistency. There’s no AT&T 4G LTE here, so Verizon’s main competitor is T-Mobile, whose HSPA+ 42 matched Verizon on download speeds but couldn’t measure up when it came to uploads.
Tucson was the second-slowest city we tested overall, in part because it only has two nationwide 4G options when many other cities have four. (Tucson is actually Cricket’s one LTE market right now, but Cricket doesn’t have any LTE phones yet.)
AT&T wins Washington by a narrower margin than its commanding 16Mbps download speeds suggest, if only because we kept hitting dead spots: one in Tenleytown and another in Crystal City, for instance. So it looks like AT&T is still building out in Washington, but where you can get it, the carrier’s 4G LTE network is the fastest. Verizon’s 4G LTE comes second, with slower speeds averaging 6.5Mbps, but better reliability.
Compared with last year, AT&T’s 3G network is looking a bit slower, but more consistent, which is probably a better experience overall. Our average download speeds on T-Mobile jumped by 50 percent with the arrival of HSPA+ 42, and Sprint 4G speeds doubled from our 2011 tests. The loser: Sprint 3G, which dropped from about 750kbps to about 450kbps on average.