Summary:

The comparative merits of the iPhone 4 on AT&T and Verizon may vary depending on location and user needs, but a new study shows that when it comes to pure iPhone data downloading power, AT&T’s network is in its own league.

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The comparative merits of the iPhone 4 on AT&T and Verizon may vary depending on location and user needs, but a new study shows when it comes to pure iPhone data downloading power, AT&T’s network is in a league of its own. Metrico Wireless, a mobile performance evaluation firm, found AT&T’s iPhone 4 downloads data twice as fast as its Verizon counterpart.

The Metrico study (via Network World) covered five U.S. cities (Baltimore-Washington, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Seattle). and included thousands of individual field tests, making it one of the largest surveys of its kind. In addition to average download speeds, Metrico also looked at a number of other factors, including average web page load time, download performance when moving and when stationary, and comparative call quality with other devices.

Despite a wide gap in download speeds, Metrico’s test found the average web page loading time was the same for the iPhone 4 on both networks, so users should only notice experiential differences when loading extremely data-heavy email file attachments or applications. Download completion rates were also measured, with the study finding that AT&T’s network was 10 percent more successful at finishing downloads while a user was moving in a bus or car, while Verizon’s worked 10 percent better while the user was standing still.

Finally, Metrico measured call quality on the iPhone 4, though the company only revealed the AT&T model’s performance versus other AT&T devices, not how it compared to the Verizon version. The iPhone 4 scored either average or below average on many call quality metrics, including Bluetooth speech, where it ranked in the bottom half of available devices. Many early reviewers noted that call quality on Verizon’s network was much better on the iPhone 4.

Metrico’s data backs up what we heard earlier from Ookla, which gathered early comparative data using its Speedtest tool. Ookla also found AT&T was twice as fast when it came to data downloads. Metrico’s study is interesting in that it also compares less tangible factors, like actual browser performance. But readers should note that San Francisco, which has been a major sore spot for AT&T iPhone owners, wasn’t included as a test city in Metrico’s survey.

It’s also worth noting that EVDO isn’t really capable of competing with a modern HSPA network, so it’s no surprise that AT&T won out in Metrico’s comparison on this point. The real test will come when the iPhone is finally capable of 4G speeds, which should (technically) give Verizon the edge, so long as LTE is widely available by then.

As always, the real test of a network is whether it works for you, and since the download speed difference doesn’t appear to affect website load times in Safari, AT&T’s victory in this regard may be more of a marketing win than one that will make a huge difference to real users.

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