Having some spare time at work, I decided to compare the real life performance (at least as perceived by me) of the high speed cellular networks I have for testing. I don't have a Sprint phone or card to test their services, but I'm mainly interested in seeing how well AT&T fares against Verizon. I was not able to find anyone talking about how AT&T's 3G network performs in San Diego.
I recently switched to AT&T from T-Mobile due to T-Mobile not having 3G coverage yet. They have just started AWS rollout in NYC and who know when they will be lighting up San Diego. The other disadvantage that T-Mobile has (not entirely their fault) is that their 3G will be on a band that no one else in the world has, making handset availability even more difficult.
I am using a Nokia E71-2 (North American version) and it is important to note that coverage at work is not good. I get one to two bars of 3G coverage (same as GSM) but the phone will fall back on GSM unless I force UMTS/HSDPA.
Generally I have found that AT&T's coverage in San Diego is not as good as what I had seen on T-Mobile. At least at work and at home. It seems to me that AT&T's network in California was a lot better when T-Mobile roaming was allowed. Since that was changed in February, it doesn't look like AT&T has put in a lot of money to fix up their old blue network. This sucks, but this should also mean that the network has nothing else to do but improve, so I'll cross my fingers.
Getting back to the topic at hand. I ran several speed tests on my laptop tethered to my E71 and then used a Verizon USB EV-DO data card to run the same number of tests. I also did some pings to google.
Here are my results:
To get some better results, I installed JoikuSpot on my E71 and placed the phone near a window to get the best 3G signal possible inside the building. The first result was from a test ran while the phone was next to the laptop, with less 3G bars.
The ping tests showed that the average latency with AT&T was 283 ms.
The ping test on Verizon's EV-DO showed an average latency of 146 ms.
So, even though HSDPA (which is available in San Diego as the E71 shows the 3.5G icon) is capable of a whole lot more, the results are not as good as Verizon's.
We also have to take into account that with the iPhone 3G having launched a couple of weeks ago, AT&T's network is being bogged down by all this new traffic. This should make AT&T work harder on improving the performance of their network for the benefit of current and future users.
I would also think that they have to improve their coverage greatly, at least in my experience.
At the end of the day I think I am going to stay with AT&T, even though their coverage in the places I spend most of my time is not very good. Luckily, out of the 2 locations, home was also a place where T-Mobile failed to have good coverage lately.
Hopefully in a few months or sometime in the future I'll be able to repeat these tests and show an improvement on AT&T's network.
Oh, by the way. I created this post while on Verizon's network and I had forgotten I was not connected to my work's LAN. I doubt I would have seen a performance this good with AT&T, probably due to the bad signal inside the building. I'd have to run the test again out in the open.