updated 08:20 pm EDT, Tue May 13, 2008
AT&T 3G data network best
With the highly anticipated 3G iPhone release expected next month, a test from ComputerWorld shows AT&T's 3G data network is faster than Sprint's and Verizon's. The magazine test, published on Tuesday, summarized the 3G data networks from each cellular network provider that currently offers the high-speed data service in the US, which can be up to three times faster than the EDGE network. The author used a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and outfitted it with a cellular data network cards from AT&T (LaptopConnect), Sprint (Mobile Broadband) and Verizon (BroadBandAccess). Each was timed for establishing a connection, peak and average download speeds, average upload speeds, the time required to load each vendor's web page and the effect each had on the X300's battery life. All testing took place in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Unfortunately, T-Mobile's 3G network could not yet be included in the test.
AT&T's LaptopConnect network access is via a choice of four cards. Each is free with a two-year contract at a $60 monthly rate for 5GB of data. The Sierra Wireless USBConnect 881 USB card was used in the test, and allowed HSPA access. It was the fastest in all tests, however, posting average download speeds of 755Kbps and an average upload of 484Kbps Peak download hit 1.6Mbps. Connecting took just 3 seconds and once there, a web page took 0.228 seconds to load. Battery consumption split the other two exactly, at 40 minutes.
Sprint's Mobile Broadband is based on Revision A of the EVDO network, and the carrier offers five data cards. Using Novatel Wireless Ovation U727 (about $100) with a $60 monthly fee and two-year commitment, the Sprint option did not impose a set GB limit. Sprint's 3G network was the slowest and hungriest of the group, eating up one hour of the laptop's charge. Average down speeds were 494Kbps, with uploads at 294Kbps. Top speed was 1.2Mbps and connection speeds averaged 3.7 seconds. Web page access was marginally fastest, at 0.224 seconds. The Novatel card sported a GPS receiver and allowed for navigation through online maps.
The Verizon network is identical to Sprint's but achieved higher speeds thanks largely to a more advanced and expensive modem. Out of the 10 cards on offer, a Sierra Wireless USB AirCard 595U was used, setting the tester back $130 with a two-year contract. Monthly fees were similar to the others, at $60 for 5GBs. The speeds were mid-pack, with an average download of 592Kbps and 1.3 peak. Uploads averaged 232Kbps, and connection time took the longest, at 5.6 seconds. Web page loading was marginally slowest, at 0.23 seconds. The battery life of the notebook took the smallest hit, however, at 20 minutes.
The test made general observations that applied to 3G service in general, and not to a particular provider, including varying speeds that could range from maximums one second, to crawls the next on account for the many variables involved, as well as the spotty coverage in certain areas.