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Summary:

New RootMetrics tests shows that AT&T’s LTE networks are on average 4.3 Mbps faster than Verizon’s when downloading data. What Verizon lacks in speed, though, it makes up for in coverage.

RootMetrics iPhone App.Screen Shot.Nov 2010

If unadulterated bandwidth is what you’re looking for in 4G phone, then AT&T is your best bet for a mobile provider, according to a network tests conducted by RootMetrics. AT&T continued to put distance between itself and Verizon Wireless in LTE performance, clocking average speeds of 18.6 Mbps on the downlink and 9 Mbps on the uplink.

Verizon averaged 14.3 Mbps down and 8.5 Mbps up, according to Root’s new report, but what it lacked in raw speed, Verizon made up for in coverage. Of the 77 markets in which Root performed its own measurements, Verizon had an LTE network up in every one. Meanwhile AT&T’s 4G service was present in only 47 of the 77 at the time Root performed its tests last year. These maps, compiled from Root’s crowdsourced data, show just how far Verizon’s LTE network reaches compared to AT&T and Sprint:

RootMetrics LTE test data

What’s more, Verizon’s coverage within its LTE footprint was much more consistent. When in a Verizon LTE market Root testers found themselves connected to a Verizon LTE signal 93.2 percent of the time, while for AT&T the number was 81.7 percent. We’ve started to see that trend in Root’s city-specific reports: Big Red is reaching further into the suburban and exurban regions of its launch markets than Ma Bell.

But AT&T was quick to point that it has added many more cities since Root compiled its data (Root measured different markets at different times in the second half of 2012). Of the 30 cities where Root found no LTE network, AT&T has since launched networks in 26 of them, AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom said.

Root's most recent results for New York City, where AT&T boasts the fastest LTE connections.

Root’s most recent results for New York City, where AT&T boasts the fastest LTE connections.

Sprint only started its LTE rollout last summer so it’s still far behind AT&T and Verizon. Root’s staggered testing regime found LTE networks in only five of the 77 markets measured last year and in even in those five markets it caught an LTE signal only half the time. When Root did find LTE, Sprint averaged 10.3 Mbps down and 4.4 Mbps up. Sprint’s speeds are generally lower because it is using half the spectrum for LTE that AT&T and Verizon are tapping for their rollouts.

T-Mobile won’t launch LTE until later this year, but Root did measure its HSPA+ network performance. T-Mobile averaged 7.3 Mbps on the downlink and 1.5 Mbps on the uplink.

RootMetrics uses both crowdsourced data — drawn from smartphones loaded with its CoverageMap iPhone and Android apps — and professional testing conducted both in vehicles and indoors (For a detailed look at Root’s methodology, check out our video of a recent Root test in Chicago). Root is also working with GigaOM this week at SXSW in Austin to measure the impact that a large conference of mobile savvy users has on city’s mobile data networks.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated T-Mobile’s LTE network will launch next year. T-Mobile’s 4G network will actually go live later this year.

  1. “than Verizon’s”?

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Monday, March 11, 2013

      Thanks for catching that. Fixing now.

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  2. T-Mobile is slated to launch LTE this year, not next.

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  3. Billy Jacob Kandah Monday, March 11, 2013

    T-Mobile’s launching its LTE this year, not next year as you state, Simple mistype I’m sure.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Monday, March 11, 2013

      You’re right, Billy. I was stuck in a 2012 mindset since that’s when Root conducted its tests. Corrected.

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  4. LTE at the higher cellular spectrum spaces isn’t nearly as good for coverage as it is in the lower UHF spaces.

    Verizon has all the 700Mhz space nationwide nicely wrapped up and covering things but ATT only has a little 700Mhz that they bought from Verizon from a divestiture.

    Sprint has the best cellular spectrum space nationwide with the old 800Mhz Nextel space but I don’t really fancy them ever getting around to building that out with LTE anytime soon. So sad as my Nextel always worked everywhere.

    http://i220.photobucket.com/albums/dd27/hundoman/public1/verizon_att_coverage_usa_zps80635e6a.jpg

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  5. Kevin Fitchard Monday, March 11, 2013

    Hi Hundoman,

    I wouldn’t say AT&T only as a little 700 MHz. It has enough to deploy a 10×10 MHz in most of its markets (though you’re right in some key cities like Chicago and LA it only has 5×5). Also Verizon actually is selling off most of its 700 MHz outside of the C-block its already deployed in, so the chart you link to doesn’t paint the whole picture. Verizon is definitely better off in the sense that it can deploy coast to coast on a single band, but AT&T has managed to build a sizable LTE footprint in 700 MHz.

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  6. In my purely anecdotal testing around Atlanta, my speedtests are showing a much faster Verizon experience. 10 speedtest,net tests conducted with a Verizon Galaxy S3 since December 3 in different geographic areas around town averaged 45404 down and 15097 up, with the peak download being around 47000 but generally very consistently in the 40s. Uploads have been much more variable from 9000 to 22000. Coverage is, as the article says, pretty much everywhere. The only thing better than great speeds is consistently great speeds and I am seeing that.

    Having been a long-suffering Sprint Wimax customer, I tried to switch to their LTE network. It work great outside the Sprint store. It worked great in sight of the LTE tower near my house. It didn’t work anywhere else and the 3G was worse than on the Wimax phone. That phone went back to Sprint. Maybe Masayoshi Son can fix Sprint. I didn’t wait two years to find out.

    So switching to Verizon has solved all of those problems so not a lot to complain about for me.

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  7. anil bhandari Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Hi Kevin. As usual an excellent report from Rootmetrics. However, I thought that Verizon had larger size LTE carriers in many of key markets compared to AT&T. All other things being equal it is Verizon who should have come out on the top by virtue of larger carrier size. As both carriers have deployed same version of LTE, I do not believe that Verizon RF Optimization is so bad to have worse performance than AT&T despite owning double the spectrum in some key markets. It is important that Rootmetrics further analyzes the data and explains reasons for this anomaly. Thanks.

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