CES 2011: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon showdown

CES 2011: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon
CES 2011: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon

We just came back from CES 2011 (check out our top picks and the entire coverage) and felt it would be useful to let you know how AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon fared during the Super Bowl of the tech world.

I’ll dive into the specifics below but, in general, AT&T was useless, T-Mobile has hit or miss, Sprint and Clear were solid and Verizon was outstanding. While a conference isn’t the best place to judge the overall nationwide performance of a carrier, it is a great place to see which one can come through when you need it.

Big shock: AT&T sucks

AT&T failed at CES 2011

It’s almost a cliche at this point to complain about AT&T service but it was beyond terrible at CES 2011. Colleagues who got in last Monday said the iPhone worked fine until tens of thousands of other iPhone users came in town on Tuesday. Making calls, sending texts, using apps and getting data on an iPhone for most of CES was a fool’s gambit.

Some may say that the iPhone itself could be the problem but it’s clear that the network itself was overwhelmed. The AT&T MiFi was similarly useless.

AT&T had a great show too, as the company unveiled its 4G plans and cool phones like the Motorola Atrix 4G. Unfortunately, it was difficult for us to give you live coverage of that press event because the AT&T network was about as reliable as a Yugoslavian car.

To make matters worse, it was boosting cell signal in the room, so Will’s AT&T products were getting full bars. Unfortunately, it seems like AT&T turned off data services in the room so his iPhone and MiFi were just shiny paperweights.

T-Mobile: You’re hot and you’re cold

T-Mobile was hit or miss at CES 2011

T-Mobile was a freaking roller coaster in Las Vegas with its HSPA+ 4G network. We would get amazing reception in the hotel room and on some parts of the show floor, but walking a few feet would cause devices to swing wildly between HSPA+, EDGE and GPRS.

I used the myTouch 4G as a mobile hotspot and it worked like a champ when we had HSPA+ 4G. We uploaded videos on the go and accomplished other bandwidth-intensive tasks when we were in the right zone. The same could be said of the T-Mobile G2.

Call quality was hit or miss too and I couldn’t make a T-Mobile call for the life of me when I was in the dead center of the CES floor. The service was steady when we were out and about in the other parts of Las Vegas though.

Sprint/Clearwire: That’ll do

Sprint network was solid at CES 2011

Sprint had a relatively quiet CES 2011, as its main announcement was that it have the BlackBerry PlayBook 4G but the nation’s third-largest carrier was the model of consistency for us. We routinely had strong data signals and solid voice quality. None of the data speeds on our Sprint MiFi were mind-blowing but being consistently average was something that AT&T and T-Mobile couldn’t accomplish.

Sure, Clearwire is going through some tough times right now with its debt and leadership woes, but the 4G WiMax service was pretty good for us during CES. There was only one time where it didn’t deliver excellent performance (during the T-Mobile 4G press event) but it still was enough to help us do a live blog.

Being consistent and steady made Sprint the second-best carrier at CES 2011.

Verizon rules the airwaves

Verizon provided great performance at CES 2011

The marketing cliche about Verizon having the best network may not be true for some of you but Big Red came through in a great way for us at CES 2011. I had my Verizon Galaxy Tab in my front blazer pocket the entire conference and it was a rockstar with mobile data. This was my go-to device for the majority of the show – I brought an iPad and didn’t even turn it on once in five days because the Tab handled everything I needed.

Because the Galaxy Tab can also act as a mobile hotspot, Verizon was essentially fueling my live coverage of some events. It’s not just the Tab though, as an old Palm Pre Plus was also able to provide a good mobile hotspot for our mountain of gear. While the speeds were rarely above 1.7 Mbps, that was far and away better than we saw from the other networks and this was pervasive throughout the conference and Las Vegas.

That’s just the 3G network we’re talking about too, as the company’s 4G LTE devices performed like champs. The USB dongles were steadily providing at least 6 Mbps down and during the Verizon press conference with a decked out room, users reported 22 Mbps download speeds.

We did a few speed tests of 4G LTE devices like the HTC Thunderbolt and found consistent 7 Mbps download speeds.

Well done Verizon. Let’s hope you can keep this up once you get an iPhone on your network.

  • Trobin

    Could have been a useful article, if not for the poor use of language.

    • Anonymous

      How is a conversational, easy-to-read tone a poor use of language?

  • Rjmjr72

    Well done. Good to hear that about att. I experience that issue every falcons game and concert. Btw dontfeed the trolls.

  • Fberfle

    Seriously? Your review of the carriers at CES revolves around what kind of signal you got AT CES? Take your nose out of your navel! Worthless.

    • Anonymous

      Um, did the point of this whole post just go right over your head? It was a showdown of the carriers’ performance at CES. And yes, where else would we conduct such a thing other than AT CES?

      I think you’re confused. This isn’t a review of the carriers – it’s a review of how the carriers performed at CES. And it’s highly indicative of how well these carriers perform in bigger cities like San Francisco and New York City.

      • Fberfle

        Politely, bull pucky. There’s no demonstrable correlation between what a carrier might do for a high-profile single-point event and what their service would be in any given location, including bigger cities like San Francisco and New York (thanks for giving me examples, wouldn’t have known what they are otherwise). I’m neither confused nor dense; amazingly it’s possible to understand the point of your post and STILL think it was worthless.

        • Anonymous

          “While a conference isn’t the best place to judge the overall nationwide performance of a carrier, it is a great place to see which one can come through when you need it.”
          Just thought it would be cool to let you guys know what worked for us and what didn’t. I don’t think it’s worthless, but you have every right to.

        • Anonymous

          “While a conference isn’t the best place to judge the overall nationwide performance of a carrier, it is a great place to see which one can come through when you need it.”
          Just thought it would be cool to let you guys know what worked for us and what didn’t. I don’t think it’s worthless, but you have every right to.

          • Fberfle

            At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford has the most diversions and goodies! Visitors can play foosball, take turns stuffing boxes into a Transit Connect van and race slot cars, among other things. You can also tweet from the floor if the mood should strike you. Many of the games offer prizes ranging from fake tattoos and gas cards to MP3 players. The highlight of the Ford area is the passport stamp game. There, visitors check out several “zones” and get a fake passport stamped. Once you have every stamp, you can turn in the passport for prizes. So I give Ford high marks for being a very good car company because any company that can get it together to provide me with these kinds of comforts for an event like the Detroit Auto Show has to be one of the best, especially on the road where being comfortable is so important. Hands down, though, the best giveaway of the week goes to Acura. The automaker is offering a week’s vacation at any W Hotel in the country, with spending money and an Acura to use for the week. This means Acura is the best auto marque in the world right now, no question. In contrast, Volkswagen only has a lame karaoke thing, which is just more proof that Volkswagen sucks.

        • Anonymous

          No demonstrable correlation? During the final days of CES, AT&T’s service gradually improved. By the last day, I had no issues with it. Why? Population density. And why does AT&T suck in bigger cities with great population density? Same reason it sucked at CES.

  • Skyline530

    I’m glad someone called out AT&T, I just got back from CES too and the service was unacceptably terrible. I understand the iPhone puts a lot of load on a network, but come on. My friends and coworkers with android phones on just about any other network were hardly having any trouble at all (and android phones use a good deal of data too) while my iPhone was WORTHLESS for anything requiring data.

    Try getting through a conference like CES and around Las Vegas without access to Email and maps on your phone. I feel like I was back in the 90s! WTF AT&T…

    I’m not the only one who can’t wait to get off your sinking ship. And thanks to your performance at CES a ton of other influential people in the consumer electronics market feel the same way and definitely won’t be recommending your services anytime soon.

  • Anonymous

    There is a need for huge correction here.

    AT&T sucks. Nothing new.

    Sprint EV-DO data went down into the pits, it just stopped working in some spots at CES.

    Losing HSPA and going to EDGE/GPRS when a H signal is present is strictly a problem on the myTouch 4G and G2. There is something wrong with the chipset in these phones. It’s constantly been brought up especially for the G2.

    I had a DEFY and Vibrant on T-Mobile 3G at CES with NO issues besides slow uplink speed. No EDGE or GPRS anywhere on either phone and no dropped calls on my end. North Hall. South Hall. Central Hall. Outside. Calls went through with no problems and I was surfing like I was at home on WiFi. Speed ranged from 1Mbps to 3Mbps. I was all over the place for 2 days. No issues. The only place I lost a bar of 3G was when I was going from North Hall to Central Hall and when I was leaving South Hall on the second floor.

    Verizon LTE is empty. There is NO one on the network which is why speed is high now. WiMAX is also another network with low usage (but still has problems). There are 1 million+ subs on the Clearwire network, a small fraction of all other wireless networks.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your input. This article was about our experiences with our gear, so it’s great to hear some more input.
      I quibble the Verizon 4G LTE point a little though. yes, no one’s on it so the bandwidth is great but I was under the impression that it’s being intentionally capped around 12 per user in order to ensure that most get 6-8. Could be hogwash though and we’ll see what happens as more users get on it.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your input. This article was about our experiences with our gear, so it’s great to hear some more input.
      I quibble the Verizon 4G LTE point a little though. yes, no one’s on it so the bandwidth is great but I was under the impression that it’s being intentionally capped around 12 per user in order to ensure that most get 6-8. Could be hogwash though and we’ll see what happens as more users get on it.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with your findings, Marin, as they were similar to my own experience. Sprint’s data service was solid, though not spectacular, throughout the entire show on both 3G and 4G. Voice service was flawless. On the other hand, my co-worker that had t-mobile was all over the place. When it worked, it was pretty good. However, it was horribly inconsistent and also couldn’t make a call on various parts of the floor.

  • Forever After

    I for one have not had any problems with AT&T’s service. On the other hand, in some areas my friends/co-workers that is on Verizon or T-Mobile had reception problems while my AT&T kept on ticking.
    I will be glad once Verizon gets an iPhone so all you apple sheeple will leave my network while I sit back and listen to all the whining on different network.

    • Anonymous

      If you were NOT at CES you shouldn’t be talking. AT&T was garbage.

    • Anonymous

      If you were NOT at CES you shouldn’t be talking. AT&T was garbage.

  • Zakkery10

    Bottom line….If you have at&t stock it would be in your best Interest to sell now…

  • Bobbylane

    Thanks for the review. It’s helpful for someone like me, who is considering dumping AT&T (after 10 years) in favor of Sprint. I prefer the IPhone4 to the Evo, but read all over the internet how Sprint is not the fastest but the most consistently reliable service. I’d go Verizon if it weren’t for that extra $30/mo that they charge for the same plan.

  • Tom Barrister

    Thanks for your excellent review

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