Who has the fastest 4G network?

Question

Now that Verizon has 4G service, which company has the fastest connection?

-Jason

Answer

This question was answered on December 10, 2010. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The term 4G is creating lots of confusion in the marketplace and some would suggest on purpose.

From a technical perspective, none of the wireless carriers have a true 4G service as none of them can get close to approaching the required upper limits that constitute 4G as defined by the International Telecommunication Union (the global wireless standards-setting organization).

The ITU defines 4G as a network capable of download speeds up to 100Mbps.

The reality is that the various mobile Internet providers have repurposed the reference 4G (4th generation) to mean their individual 4th generation technologies, not that of the ITU If you really want to get picky, technically they should really be referring to these services as faster than standard 3G (FTS3G), 3.9G or pre-4G but they just arent very sexy marketing handles.

As a practical matter, they are all providing much better than standard 3G speeds (500Kbps-2Mbps) so those that are crying foul about using the term 4G need to get over themselves.

Of the three major carriers that offer 4G (Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint), Verizon has the highest theoretical upper limit (50Mbps) with their LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard with actual speeds in the 5-12Mbps range The LTE standard is reportedly what AT&Ts 4G network will be based on when it launches sometime in 2011.

T-Mobiles 4G is actually a technology known as 3G-HSPA which is an enhanced version of their 3G network and has a theoretical upper limit of 21 Mbps (in Europe,T-Mobile calls the same service Turbo-3G) with actual speeds in the 5-12Mbps range.

Sprints 4G is actually a technology called WIMAX from Clearwire, which is a microwave technology that was originally deployed as an alternative to cable and DSL in smaller U.S markets The theoretical upper limit is 20Mbps with actual rates ranging from 3-10Mbps.

Having said that, whether it complies with a technical standard or not, the real question most of us want to know is who has the fastest network in the real world, not the theoretical world.

The answer will actually be different for just about everyone that asks the question because it depends upon several variables: Where you live, what device(s) you have & if you need the service in more than one market.

The where you live component is the easiest one to use to start to reduce the possible contenders If, for instance, you live in a rural area, you arent likely to have any of the services as an option (the end of the decision tree!)

If you live in a major city, your first task is to go to the coverage map of each of the major carriers to see if they provide coverage in the areas of town that you need it to work on a regular basis.

If you travel to other cities, checking to see if those other cities also have coverage may also help you narrow down the choices (whos fastest is irrelevant if its not available where you need it!)

The other consideration (as of Dec of 2010) is what you plan to use on the 4G network

Verizons 4G service is only available for laptops at the moment, with smartphone service reported to be launching in the first or second quarter of 2011.

If you want to get a smartphone with FTS3G service today, you must choose between Sprint or T-Mobile and of course the service must be available in your area.

For me, the decisions are pretty clear at the moment: If you are a business user that travels with a laptop, get the Verizon 4G LTE service (best combination of speed and serviceable areas IMHO).

If you want a 4G smartphone, WAIT (if you can) Your selection of services and devices are going to be much greater by the middle of next year with the launch by both AT&T and Verizon of their higher-speed smartphone services & devices.

For the record, the iPhone 4 is NOT a 4G phone (another confusing naming decision), so anyone wanting to use an iPhone on any 4G network next year will have to buy a phone that doesnt exist yet&

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on December 10, 2010