Review of 4G Wireless Providers in the United States
Check out Product-Boys review of the best and worst so called “4G” wireless providers in the United States.
Here at Product-Boy we’ve evaluated the 4G branded services offered by the varying wireless players and found the fastest and slowest speeds, best and worst connectivity, and the wireless providers that offer the most bang for the buck.
Let’s be clear, even though the wireless providers market their new data plans as 4G, the underlying technologies deployed by the various players in the arena are actually quite different and to be completely honest, none merit to be called 4G. 4G, otherwise known as the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards, the successor to 3G and 2G, as set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), must meet peak download speeds of 100 Mbps for high mobility communication (like people on trains and cars) and 1 Gbps for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians or stationary users). Currently, the wireless players are marketing and promising 4G service, when in reality, these are pre-4G technologies which are pretty much long range WiFi (mobile WiMAX) and upgraded 3G (3G Long Term Evolution and HSPA+). These services don’t reach 4G speeds by a long shot.
The top players in the wireless industry along with some of the smaller guys have begun or will in the next month begin delivering 4G enabled mobile phones.
Sprint was the first wireless provider to market 4G services in early 2010. They boast of average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps and peak download speeds of 10 Mbps. Just in case you’re wondering, you’ll get peak download speeds at 2 AM or something, when the rest of the city is either asleep or dead. On the bright side, Sprint currently offers unlimited 4G bandwidth. You can download all the movies, songs, games, or porn you can possibly get your hands on. Our tests were relatively consistent with Sprint’s claims. We hit about 6 Mbps download speeds consistently. Sometimes it just shot down to 1 Mbps. Sprint’s upload bandwidth, the speed at which you can upload your videos and what not onto the internet is limited to only 1 Mbps. That’s twice the speed of Sprint’s 3G upload speeds.
Sprint Partnered with Clearwire to offer WiMAX as their 4G. WiMAX is similar to a home WiFi network but with a longer range and a quality of service similar to a cellular network. It is NOT true 4G.
Verizon entered the 4G race in December of 2010. Their average download speeds are said to be 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps with an upload speed of 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps. We ran various tests and found Verizon 4G to hit 21 Mbps for downloading and 20 Mbps for uploading. In case you’re wondering, YES, that is INSANE FAST! Unfortunately, to get Verizon’s 4G you’ll need to purchase a USB wireless model for your laptop. Also, to make things a LOT worse, there is a 10 GB limit on the amount of data you can download and upload. With those speeds, we were capped with the monthly bandwidth allowance in 45 minutes! They have yet to introduce 4G cell phones. Verizon reps have told us that they will introduce their first 4G phones anytime from March to May of 2011 and will most likely offer unlimited data access for the phones ONLY.
Verizon’s branded 4G network is actually running on 3GPP Long Term Evolution technologies. Again, it is NOT true 4G.
AT&T boasts that their 4G network can hit 4X the speeds of its 3G service. So, theoretically, that should be pretty fast, well over 15 Mbps, however, if you dig deep enough you’ll find that AT&T says their 4G service will offer 6 Mbps. In reality, AT&T service was very slow and hit only 4 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload. That is VERY slow. So why so slow? Here’s the thing, AT&T completely upgraded their 3G network to HSPA+ which is faster than 3G but no-where near Verizon’s branded 4G. Now, AT&T claims that they are building out their LTE network to offer speeds similar to Verizon. However, we won’t see that until late 2011, possibly mid 2012. As if the other carriers weren’t already abusing the term “4G”, AT&T has taken it to new heights and calls their HSPA+ network as 4G.
AT&T’s branded 4G network is currently running on an upgraded 3GPP UMTS architecture called HSPA+. The executive team at AT&T has reported that they are rolling out their LTE network and will be ready for use in mid 2011. From past experiences with the fat cats at AT&T, we’ll probably see an LTE enabled device in 2012. To be completely clear, AT&T’s HSPA+ is definitely NOT 4G, neither will their soon to be LTE network.
Both AT&T and T-Mobile are stretching the truth on 4G. Well, all the carriers are, but at least the others offer higher speeds. In theory, T-Mobile’s network should offer 15 Mbps down and at least 5 Mbps up, but the reality is that you get speeds of up to 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up.
T-Mobile’s branded 4G is also HSPA+. It is pretty slow and not EVEN close to 4G.
Fastest and Slowest “4G” Services
1st Place: Verizon
Download Speeds: 20 Mbps
Upload Speeds: 20 Mbps
2nd Place: Sprint
Download Speeds: 6 Mbps (Somewhat Consistent)
Upload Speeds: 1 Mbps
3rd Place: T-Mobile
Download Speeds: 6 Mbps (Not Consistent at all)
Upload Speeds: 1.5 Mbps
4th Place: AT&T
Download Speeds: 4 Mbps
Upload Speeds: 2 Mbps
Best Bang for the Buck
Verizon offers the best service with the fastest and most consistent connectivity to their 4G network. However, since the service is only available for laptops via the USB wireless modem and with a 10 GB cap at $80/month, it is NOT worth it. Unless you have money to burn, don’t get it.
Sprint’s 4G, which in actuality is Clearwire’s WiMAX service, is probably the most bang for the buck, AT THIS POINT.
AT&T and T-Mobile’s 4G is terrible. We wouldn’t even consider purchasing these services. Maybe once AT&T has rolled out their LTE network we’d consider them.
Should you upgrade to 4G?
Don’t tie yourself down with ANY long term contract from ANY of the carriers for 4G service yet. Once Verizon officially introduces their 4G enabled mobile phones and its corresponding data plans, we might consider them. It will depend on the monthly bandwidth allowance. So for now, hold off on any long term contracts and wait a couple more months.