Tuesday, December 8, 2009

3G vs. 3G: Whose mobile data network is best?

My colleague Matt shared this very detailed article from Telephony Online that breaks down who actually has the best 3G network. It's nice to see some data applied to the question of whose network is better; I trust data more than I trust Luke Wilson.

I have a Sprint 3G USB modem currently, and I'm not really happy with it. I have what feels to be a lot of connectivity issues; dropped connections, etc. So I've been thinking of what I could do about that. I could switch providers, maybe get a 4G/3G combo modem, maybe switch to Verizon, who knows.

Here's what the author has to say about each provider:

Sprint: The article points out that Sprint has the strongest signal: "Typically 90% of its footprint receives receives signals of 50% or greater of full strength." But, Sprint has "the highest data connection failure rate, as high as 15% in Seattle, while the rest of the operators kept their failure rates well below 5%. So while Sprint 3G customers are getting more bars consistently, they’re much less likely to actually complete a data session."

Forget AT&T. "In most markets, 30% to 50% of AT&T’s footprint received half-strength signals or worse, which in part explains many of the lack of coverage and capacity complaints " Yeah, I don't care if they give out 3G modems for free with a service plan only charging me $1/month, I'm still not switching to AT&T. Everybody I know complains about poor services on their iPhones. I don't care if it's the device or the network; I'm just not jumping into that pool of fail. Not to mention, I tried an AT&T 3G modem about a year or so ago, and I couldn't keep a reliable connection in my home neighborhood in the city of Chicago proper. If it doesn't work at home, is it going to work on the road? Dunno, don't care.

What about Verizon? Here's a useful data point, specific to Chicago. Verizon users have a 2% chance of data connection failure, while Sprint users have an 11% chance. Hey, that sounds familiar.

The article points out that Sprint users tend to get "more bars" than Verizon users -- but even with more bars, they have more trouble connecting. What's up with that? Verizon's network speeds in Chicago (259k down/138k up) are just a tiny bit faster than Sprint's speeds (236k down/72k up), too.

T-Mobile isn't really on my radar. I have them for voice service and data service on my cell phone, and I'm happy with it. But, their 3G network still isn't built out enough at this time. I drop down to EDGE quite a bit when wandering around Chicago. At least I do get a reliable data connection just about anywhere I go.

Verdict: I'm going to go buy a Verizon modem today and cancel the Sprint service.

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