updated 12:30 pm EST, Mon December 7, 2009
HSPA gives AT&T faster average speed
A study from Root Wireless published this weekend claims that AT&T's network is faster overall than Verizon's. Testing across 7 cities, including well-known AT&T trouble spots like New York City and San Francisco, showed the average AT&T download speed ranging from 246Kbps to 428Kbps. By comparison, Verizon downloads varied between 195Kbps and 259Kbps.
Unusually, Root also claims that reliability and coverage was better for AT&T. While both had data failure rates of under 3 percent, AT&T's was overall lower by an unspecified amount; Sprint's rate ranged between 11 and 15 percent. The researchers also note that signal strength was higher in general as 71 percent of AT&T's New York network had three quarters signal strength versus 37 percent for Verizon. Even San Francisco saw AT&T slightly edge out Verizon with 33 percent of areas show strong signals for AT&T compared to 30 percent for its rival.
Root CTO Ron Dicklin uses the study to argue that AT&T's poor image is simply "perception" and argues that most of the problems associated with its network stem from original planning for the 3G network. Most upgrades to 3G simply used existing 3G towers and depended heavily on the shorter ranged and lower capacity 1,900MHz band, leading to some areas having very strong coverage while others have tenuous or no 3G coverage at all. As more customers use 3G phones, AT&T is moving to more capacious and longer-range 850MHz for data access.
The study doesn't appear to address all of the concerns of the network, as iPhone users in particular have reported a large number of data and voice call drops in major US urban centers. Similarly, while it accounts for drop-outs, the testing doesn't discuss those reported instances when the connection drops to EDGE or GPRS and briefly creates service problems. Drops of this kind can render online services like video unusable without severing the link altogether.
Additionally, the study doesn't address AT&T's last place ranking in Consumer Reports' latest study, which gauges end-users' experiences and not synthetic tests.