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AT&T strongest on data and browsing in iPhone carrier study

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According to an extensive comparative study of iPhone 4S (s aapl) performance across all three major U.S. carriers, AT&T(s t) offers by far the best data performance on paper, and also performs nearly as good, or better, than both Sprint and Verizon in terms of call quality and reliability.

One of the chief complaints against AT&T for as long as it has had the iPhone has been its tendency to drop calls with alarming frequency. The new study by Metrico, a wireless performance measurement company, indicates that AT&T’s call failure rate of 2.8 percent was actually better than Sprint’s(s s) (3.7 percent), though it was worse than Verizon’s(s vz) (2.1 percent). Metrico tested call performance in five major unnamed U.S. cities it says are “representative” of the overall country, and used more than 6,000 voice calls to get its results.

The iPhone 4S performed poorly in general in terms of call failure rates when compared to the competition in terms of Android (s goog) and BlackBerry (s rimm) devices, which could be attributable to the fact that it packs both CDMA and GSM support into a device originally designed to work with just one or the other, but did much better than average in terms of data performance.

Data and web browsing was where AT&T really shined. It managed more than double the average download speeds of both Sprint and Verizon, with 3210 Kbps vs. 1071 Kbps for Verizon and 581 Kbps for Sprint. Sprint’s low score echoes user complaints that prompted the network to tell reporters it’s “taking the reports of problems […] seriously.” It’s no surprise that AT&T dominates when it comes to data scores, since it’s the only iPhone carrier to offer HSPA+ speeds thanks to its upgraded GSM network, which the 4S supports.

Despite the difference on paper, Metrico rated all three major U.S. iPhone carriers very highly in terms of their ability to deliver full data reliably to customer devices. Still, comparative web page load times might give those still deciding between carriers something to think about: AT&T devices loaded pages in 1.29 seconds on average, compared to 2.6 seconds on Verizon and a relatively sluggish 6.44 seconds on Sprint.

Sprint took the lead when it came to voice quality when speaking, however, though AT&T wasn’t far behind. Out of a possible maximum score of five, Sprint ranked 3.95 when speaking, while AT&T was next at 3.85 and Verizon came in third at 3.5. In terms of voice quality when listening, AT&T was highest with 3.82, with Sprint second at 3.72 and Verizon last at 3.55. Metrico uses an algorithm to score call quality objectively.

Metrico stresses that the study isn’t meant to delineate a winner among the three iPhone 4S carriers, and suggests that users will have a different preference based on needs. But in a smartphone market where data and data services are increasingly replacing voice calls both in terms of usage trends among users and revenue drivers for carriers, AT&T’s data performance could actually make it the best among the three for the average smartphone user. That might not be the case for long, however, since a future iPhone could well include LTE support, which is an area where AT&T lags behind Verizon considerably.

8 Responses to “AT&T strongest on data and browsing in iPhone carrier study”

  1. Mobile Tester

    A subsequent study by Metrico should be which carrier delivers the most content per megabyte billed. According to their new privacy policy off an opt-out required to not share customer information with third parties, Verizon will probably dilute the customer’s allotted megabytes or gigabytes with ads. My tests showed that by the fourth month of using LTE, Verizon was using more megabytes for its own downloads than my actual usage. Because of being a business-only user, it was easy to track the heavy downloads from Verizon for gaming and entertainment. And Verizon’s link for Usage Analysis was about 25 MBs of smartphone ads instead of the billing detail. The VZAM or Verizon Access Manager from Smith Micro’s QuickLink is not really for the customer, but instead for Verizon to download ads and share revenue for content. I predict that a Metrico study of content-delivery to billed megabyte would show that Sprint wins and AT&T gets second place. Sprint needs to lower churn and acquire high value customers while AT&T will not risk its first-place iPhone position for privacy and mobile ads.

  2. Dennis Domingo

    I’ve had 2-3 days of overlap of having both an iphone 3gs (AT&T) and iphone 4g (Verizon) and I can tell you comparing the bars where I live (Palo Alto) and work ( Mountain View ), Verizon has more bars and I can also use my Verizon phone at home. The AT&t iphone 3gs was completely unusable in terms of any bars where I lived

  3. Liyanage Perera

    No way this is true. I’ve been on ATT network for years with iPhone and then changed to Verizon with iPhone4 and I know the difference is night and day. No way that ATT get 6000Kbps (6MB/s) mark on Data on 3G. As a matter of face no way either carrier get 6MB/s data speeds with 3G(HSDPA). It should go on 4G or 3G/HSPA+to get that kind of speed and iPhones don’t have HSPA+ antenna. so No way it can get 6000Kbps speeds. If you want to get more than 2MB speed you should have HSPA+ where iPhones do not support HSPA+. This test is fake. Must be paid by ATT to get this published. 6000 Kbps, my A–

  4. CarrierAnalyst

    The study’s report of AT&T that “data and Web browsing shined” over Verizon and Sprint is because of one network integrated at all levels including cellsite, Home Location Register HLR, servers and billing platforms. And AT&T’s billing provider of Amdocs has the global experience to seamlessly read SIMs between network speeds and content speeds. Verizon embeds Smith Micro’s QuickLink software in devices to shift between 3G CDMA and 4G LTE.
    Despite Smith Micro’s statements, the shifts are not seamless and cause disconnects to lose data and send duplicate emails or partial inserts like this comment. Verizon is also selling 4G LTE as a tease with boot-up access only during the 30-day customer return or satisfaction period. After the initial 30 days, the Verizon Access Manager VZAM provided by Smith Micro downloads network updates that shift the user between 3G and 4G. Verizon’s rouse is that the 4G access favors its on-deck or revenue sharing content. And Verizon’s disconnects in the 3G to 4G shifts are due to its new privacy policy that customers have opt-out of ads because Verizon now shares billing location and demographics with third parties.