4G LTE showdown: AT&T vs. Verizon

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It’s an exciting time in the mobile world, as all four major carriers have a 4G network deployed but we all know that not all 4G is created equal. When you think of “4G,” you should be thinking about LTE because this mobile data technology delivers speeds which really can change the way we work and play.

Verizon is the big fish in the 4G LTE pond, as it aggressively rolled out its network in 2011 and it now covers more than 200 million people and routinely tops nationwide speedtests. Personally, I use a Verizon 4G LTE USB modem whenever I’m going to a conference because it has been reliable, consistent, fast and has been nearly everywhere I want it.

AT&T has been slowly rolling out its 4G LTE network and it’s still only in a handful of markets. While the test network is live (and incredibly fast) in my hometown of San Francisco, it’s not really fair to compare that performance with Verizon’s because it’s not completely up and running. I’ve spent the last few days in Houston and San Antonio though and both cities have robust 4G LTE networks from Verizon and AT&T, so you just know I had to pit the two against each other.

The combatants

I came to Texas loaded for bear with 4G LTE smartphones, as I brought the AT&T Skyrocket and LG Nitro, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Droid Razr for Verizon. All of these devices are ultra-premium phones and should have top-of-the-line performance when it comes to mobile data. The key word there is “should.”

I was stoked about testing out AT&T’s 4G LTE network because it’s kind of a treat for me. The Skyrocket performed like a champ (more on that below) but I was confused to see the LG Nitro HD didn’t even pick up a 4G LTE signal. I saw this in San Francisco with the test network but thought that was a network issue. I’m now in AT&T 4G LTE country and still can’t get the LG Nitro HD to pick up a 4G LTE signal, even when I switch the SIM card with the Skyrocket. This is very frustrating and forced me to just use the Skyrocket for my tests.

I’ve been reviewing the Verizon Galaxy Nexus for the last few days and liked the mobile data I was pulling down until I put it next to the Motorola Droid Razr. In the same location, the Droid Razr would routinely get more bars of coverage than the Ice Cream Sandwich phone, so I guess I am experiencing some of those signal woes we’ve heard about. Luckily, the speed results don’t seem to be too far off.

The speeds

I was very impressed with what the AT&T 4G LTE network was capable of, as the Samsung Skyrocket produced an average download speed of 16.68 Mbps with a high of 22.05 and a low of 7.13. On the upstream, I average 6.42 Mbps with a high of 10.92 and a low of 4.35.

The Verizon 4G LTE network was no slouch either, as the Galaxy Nexus averaged 9.39 MBps down and 4.18 Mbps up – download speeds maxed out at 32.51 Mbps with a low of 4.83 and the upload went as high as 16.63 with a low of 3.02. The Droid Razr also performed well with an average download speed of 13.26 Mbps and 4.55 up – I saw download highs of 21.51 and lows of 4.33 while upload highs were 13.97 and the low was 2.42.

So, this test found that the AT&T 4G LTE network outperformed Verizon’s in San Antonio and Houston but we’re not prepared to declare a clear-cut winner. First of all, AT&T’s network is much younger and has fewer users on it than Verizon’s, which means it’s not as crowded and speedier for now. Still, this is a good sign for AT&T and it makes me wish it would hurry up with deployment already.

Conclusion

The thing to take away from this 4G LTE battle is that we’re living in an awesome time for mobile data, as all of these average download numbers would have seemed crazy a few years ago. For example, the house I’m staying at uses AT&T’s U-Verse service for Internet and the company’s 4G LTE averaged a faster download speed than this hardline connection. That’s crazy.

The day-to-day impact is more important than just speedtests, as pages load faster, files download in an instant and watching videos or streaming music is simple and easy. Many of the barriers of mobile data start to disappear and it opens the door for a host of innovative new apps and services.

The only issue with these blazing speeds is that it makes it so much easier to blow past your data caps. I’ve had the Galaxy Nexus for less than a week and I’ve already blown through 1.13 GB of data – I know this thanks to the new data usage monitor built in – and that’s without any heavy video streaming or using a music streaming service full time.

So, we’re getting incredible mobile networks which enable a new class of apps and services but these are also somewhat hamstrung by data limits or “usage-based pricing.” One step forward, two steps back …

  • Albundy1

    signal bars between two different phones does not mean anything.  When will all you so called mobile experts learn that?   dBm measures signal….. you would think after the entire iphone bars screw up you guys would learn..

    • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ?

      Its strange when people mention signal bars on phones. My Sony Ericsson T610 on T-Mobile had crappy signal bars, but made calls fine. My Motorola Razr had nothing but FULL BARS like 24-7 on T-Mobile and made calls fine. 
      I have noticed a few things between phones that are the same but are on CDMA vs. GSM though. Phones that are on CDMA can make calls with 1 signal bar, sometimes without a signal bar, and GSM phones generally can not. Ive been told that this varies between the two (cant remember which one is which), and that one measures signal strength, the other measures quality of the signal. Not entirely sure if this is true, but Ive come to believe in experience the lower the bars the less connection, speed, and reliability GSM will have, and CDMA will function fine. 
      On a side note, Ive been able to pull in 5mbps+ speed on WiMAX with only 1 of 3 signal bars, however its a fluke, and generally the higher the bars on WiMAX the higher the speed and lower latency. Mimicking GSM in that respect I guess. (If you believe in the above equation I mention)

    • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ?

      Its strange when people mention signal bars on phones. My Sony Ericsson T610 on T-Mobile had crappy signal bars, but made calls fine. My Motorola Razr had nothing but FULL BARS like 24-7 on T-Mobile and made calls fine. 
      I have noticed a few things between phones that are the same but are on CDMA vs. GSM though. Phones that are on CDMA can make calls with 1 signal bar, sometimes without a signal bar, and GSM phones generally can not. Ive been told that this varies between the two (cant remember which one is which), and that one measures signal strength, the other measures quality of the signal. Not entirely sure if this is true, but Ive come to believe in experience the lower the bars the less connection, speed, and reliability GSM will have, and CDMA will function fine. 
      On a side note, Ive been able to pull in 5mbps+ speed on WiMAX with only 1 of 3 signal bars, however its a fluke, and generally the higher the bars on WiMAX the higher the speed and lower latency. Mimicking GSM in that respect I guess. (If you believe in the above equation I mention)

  • http://twitter.com/khanam Amir Khan

    Ummmmm….. you do realize that the verizon 4g network has thousands of devices live already while the AT&T network is empty, right? Try comparing AT&T’s speeds to the speed test results from when Verizon’s network was empty if you want to do a true comparison.

    • Marin

      Boom – “First of all, AT&T’s network is much younger and has fewer users on it than Verizon’s, which means it’s not as crowded and speedier for now. “

      • Rick H

        I would waited a year for a true comparison on this,we all know AT& T is why better cause they just started to do LTE. VZW network been going for a full year and with all the LTE phones on the network of course it’s going to be a little slower, a blind man can see that.

      • Snarky

        That’s true and I understand what you’re saying. Still, earlier reviews I’ve read in ATT”s first LTE markets showed consistently lower rates despite the network being essentially empty. Now, despite more people joining, the rates are far higher than those reported. Could it be that ATT is rolling out full LTE in stages? What can account for the more recent higher speeds compared with 3 months back?

    • Carl Johnson

      Oh on. What’s that like..having the older more congested network?
      Seems like a repeat of ATT when the first iphones came out. Bash them when they were bogged down and bash them again when they’re empty.

      You sir, are a true troll.

  • Anonymous

    I like how this is in the Android section and not in the other two. Zing!
    On a more serious note though, which network are you seeing better signal on inside buildings? For example, my Samsung Vibrant will be at full bars HSPA outside my school building, but drop down to 2 bars EDGE when I enter. My friend with a Droid Bionic is seeing better LTE signal than that in the center of my school. Would the AT&T device be more like the Bionic or my Vibrant?

    • Jordan Dietrich

      It’s most likely more closely related to signal towers near the building than the phone itself. Since AT&T and T-Mobile use similar signal types, you’ll likely see similar results with an AT&T phone.

  • Anonymous

    okko@c5e9e0658b8d494a852ff09de4b35262:disqus 
     note though, which network are you seeing better signal on inside buildings? For example, my Samsung Vibrant will be at full bars HSPA outside my school building, but drop down to 2 bars EDGE when I enter. My friend with a Droid Bionic is seeing better LTE signal than that in the cent

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  • Duded41

    dude thats fast! thats how fast it is on wifi at my house!

  • Bobbysingh550

    I would like to point out that while it may be true that the AT&T 4gLte speeds equal over 20 mbps, it is also true that Verizon speeds equal 20 plus mbps consistently and about 13-18 mbps uploads.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IKAZGJCGINGDMUF4SLRO2GQI4A Recommended

    Hmmm…My LG Nitro HD gets well over 20mbps and up to 39mbps downloads, and a max of 15 mbps uploads on ATT’s LTE network.  I do jump back and forth between just 4g and 4g lte, but I don’t have a problem getting it to my knowledge.

    Also, I have Xfinity, which I’ve found faster than Uverse (which I had and ditched).  However, I only get 24mbps on Xfinity (which is what I pay for).  So it’s crazy to think my cell phone is significantly faster than my hardline internet.

  • Solatejae

    I have the new iphone does it have 4g? If not what phone that at&t offers would be best? Im thinking of switching to Verizon, but they do not offer a phone that works here and in International air. Can someone help me?
    Thanks  solate

    • http://www.facebook.com/Uzumakibobby Bobby Uzumaki

      How do you buy a phone before know wither or not its 4g? Do people just not research products anymore before purchase?

      • Jordan Dietrich

        I’ve spoken to some Verizon reps in my area that swear the iPhone 4s is a 4G phone. It’s not so much that people don’t research, it’s that there’s a TON of misinformation floating around the internet and other sources that people expect to be reliable.

        You also then have the confusion of the iPhone 4s being HSPA+ compatible, which at&t called “4G” until recently.

        • Marin Perez

          If I had a dollar for every time a carrier rep gave out wrong information, I’d be a rich, rich man.

      • Bobbysingh550

        Sorry for the delay in response. You are right. Some people get so captivated by the phones aesthetics that they fail to pay attention to other details such as whether it’s 4g or not. The description will tell you that and when you turn the phone on, the 4g LTE sign shows up on the top right, also, some people do not do a speed test. They automatically assume that since its a high end device, it might already be 4g lte.  

      • Carl Johnson

        He bought an apple. They’re drones that just buy another apple product because they are shinny.

  • Snarky

    Just got my new Skyrocket and checked out the ATT LTE speeds here in New York. Average with 3 bars signal was 26 down, 12.5 up. I’ll need a full charge and get outside where I have 5 bars to really check it well. Still, I’m very happy. It blows away the “4G” atrix I had.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Uzumakibobby Bobby Uzumaki

    my Droid Razr normally hits 17mbps in chicago…

  • http://www.integrationworksinc.com/ Small business IT support Crys

    it may be true that the AT&T 4gLte speeds equal over 20 mbps, it is
    also true that Verizon speeds equal 20 plus mbps consistently and about
    13-18 mbps uploads.

  • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ?

    Oh well hot darn, sign me up! NOT!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ?

    Oh well hot darn, sign me up! NOT!!!!

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