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AT&T vs. Verizon 3G Speed

Posted on: January 18th, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 24 Comments

A few months ago Verizon started running some pretty obvious ads for those of us who use both Verizon and AT&T. They compared their 3G coverage map to AT&T’s. AT&T came up wanting.

AT&T fired back, saying that their 3G network covers 97% of cell phone users, and that it’s faster. They further brag that AT&T users can surf the Web while they’re on the phone.

I’m sitting here this morning using a Verizon 3G modem connected to my MacBook, writing code for the iPhone in my pocket. On a whim I went to on both the Mac and iPhone to see what the results would be. on the iPhone took me to the App Store to download their free native app. On the Mac, runs in your Web browser. I downloaded the app to my iPhone and made sure both the Mac and iPhone were connecting to the same server in Kalamazoo, MI.

The results of three tests tests on each device are summarized below:

  Verizon AT&T
  Download Upload Download Upload
Run 1 790 Kbps 60 Kbps 205 Kbps 233 Kbps
Run 2 230 Kbps 60 Kbps 105 Kbps 130 Kbps
Run 3 430 Kbps 110 Kbps 70 Kbps 190 Kbps
Average 483 Kbps 77 Kbps 127 Kbps 184 Kbps
Overall 280 Kbps 156 Kbps

AT&T has an upload advantage, but most mobile Web surfing and email activity depends on download speed, not upload speed. Furthermore, AT&T’s overall speed (average of upload and download) is lower. So even if you did an equal amount of uploading and downloading (which would be very unusual), Verizon is faster.

This seems to undermine AT&T’s argument that their network, while covering very little of the geographic area of the US, is faster. It appears to me based on my one sample location (Coffee Emporium in Hiawatha, IA) that this is not true.

And while I may be able to surf and talk at the same time with my iPhone, if you read the fine print you’ll find out that only applies when you’re in 3G coverage. The one time I’ve needed to do it in the last two years I was not in 3G coverage and therefore couldn’t surf while I was on the phone.

The iPhone is a great device and if you live in certain areas of the country very close to an ocean you have great coverage. And the connection speed, while slower than Verizon, is certainly adequate for mobile Web and email activities. I really like my iPhone and recommend them to everyone. However, AT&T is its weak spot.

24 Responses

  1. Josh S says:

    Coverage and speed are so dependent on exact location, that I don’t see how AT&T can make the claims that they make. Verizon seems to have the most complete coverage area, and in my specific location (also in fly-over country), Verizon is far superior.
    That’s the primary reason that I switched away from the iPhone to a Droid. Now that I’m on the Android platform, I can’t imagine switching to anything else. It’s really a mass-customization platform in that the software can be tweaked in any way, and there are lots of options for hardware depending one whether you want a physical keyboard or a certain size screen or whatever.
    Apple is going to release their higher-resolution, dual-core device that will run on Verizon this summer, but it’ll be too late. They still want too tight of control on what can be done with it, and it will fall the way of the Palm Pilot.

  2. Josh S says:

    Oh, I suppose I should have also contributed my speed test results:
    Run 1: 664, 622
    Run 2: 400, 600 (different test server)
    Run 3: 242, 779

    I don’t have a way to test AT&T, but since I usually got No-Signal here anyway, I can just say that it’s effectively zero.

    Interestingly, when I turn on WI-FI, I get 3053, 614.
    So on upload, I get as good or better over 3G (though latency is not as good).

    When I had AT&T on the iPhone, I was constantly hunting for hotspots, but with Verizon on my Droid, I just leave WiFi turned off because there’s no noticeable difference in speed.

  3. Tom Law says:


    Thanks for the comparison! Very enlightening! You always wonder about the ads on TV and if they streach the turth. Thanks again sir.


  4. Dale Durnell says:

    Thanks for the comparison Craig. I’ve seen those competing commercials and have been as confused as anyone, I imagine. Looking at the two ads, it appears as if they simply swapped maps, when in fact they are apparently comparing apples and oranges (one is actually showing coverage and the other is showing customer base). I realize it’s purely conjecture at this point, but I have to wonder — *IF* Verizon had as many customers as AT&T purports to have, would their system still be that much faster? In other words, are they capable of their 3G speed simply because they don’t have to reach as many customers. And, on the other side of the coin, is it possible that AT&T’s hardware is bogged down (read: inadequate for the task) because it has so many customers. Ummm, interesting points to ponder. But, again, thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Dale,

    Verizon is #1, AT&T is #2 in terms of number of customers.

  6. Josh,

    Remember that Palm totally dominated the PDA space for years even after “better” PDAs came along. They didn’t have nearly the marketing moxie that Apple has. In other words, Apple could “go the way of the Palm Pilot” for a long time before Android had a chance of catching up. :-)

    Not that there’s anything wrong with Android nor that iPhone is the “best”. It’s just that you can’t will a product to be #1 with just zealousness.

  7. Wes says:

    You’ve also got to realize that Apple no doubt chose AT&T at least in-part because it utilizes the more global GSM technology vs. Verizon’s CDMA technology, which allows them to sell to many more countries using a global solution with a much larger subscriber base.

  8. Actually, Apple originally wanted to work with Verizon and approached them first. They wouldn’t bow to Apple’s demands for a share of monthly revenue from iPhone owners’ voice/data plans and Apple’s desire to control where and how iPhones were sold. In retrospect, of course, they would’ve been wise to consider bending at least a little ways. At the time, though, the iPhone was just another smartphone from a company with no phone experience. Apple’s demands were unreasonable.

    The deal with AT&T, then, wasn’t about who had the better network, more customers, or better customer service. It was about who would accept Apple’s draconian terms. AT&T (at the time, Cingular) blinked and got the iPhone.

  9. Jeffrey Treloar says:

    “This seems to undermine AT&T’s argument that their network, while covering very little of the geographic area of the US, is faster. It appears to me based on my one sample location (Coffee Emporium in Hiawatha, IA) that this is not true.”

    Actually the “Coffee Emporium test” by itself is unable to establish any meaningful conclusions. Network speed is dependent on so many factors, such as proximity to towers, network traffic, etc. I have had download speeds increase from 200 Kbps to 800 Kbps by simply changing my location by 100 yards.

    I have used smartphones with Sprint, AT&T and Verizon over the last few years. Of the three, AT&T is the most woeful with respect to coverage. Their gaps and dead zones are ridiculous. Nevertheless, in the many regular locations that I have used all 3 services, AT&T consistently provides the fastest speeds for me. Of course, like yours, my “study” is of no real objective value.

    I do find it interesting, however, that in the advertising wars between AT&T and Verizon, Verizon never seems to dispute AT&T’s claim to provide the fastest speeds.


    PS I am so happy that my PocketBible is not dependent on my AT&T coverage.

  10. Jeffrey,

    I should’ve put a :-) after my reference to my single data point. I agree that it’s pretty useless. On the other hand, today I was downtown at a sandwich shop several miles from my previous location and while AT&T’s numbers were about twice as good as they were yesterday from the other location, Verizon’s were also better. Overall, Verizon was twice as fast as AT&T.

  11. James Walker says:

    Craig, thanks for the info. As an interesting side note, I have both an iPhone 3GS and an AT&T 3G card in my notebook. When running seqential speed tests on both devices side-by-side, I always get much faster transfer speeds (up and down) on my notebook than on my iPhone. I’m assuming they are connecting to the same tower and it is certainly the same network. I have concluded that the phone itself is choking the bandwidth due perhaps to some bus limitations or other problem inherent with a small device with a relatively slow processor. I wonder how a Verizon equipped notebook would compare with a Verizon smart phone in a side-by-side speed comparison.

  12. Jayson says:

    I feel for you guys in the US – always seems like you get such a raw deal when it comes to mobile phone providers and coverage…

    In Australia, the iPhone is sold unlocked and you can choose a provider. Telstra has by far the best network, but you certainly pay for the privilege. Sitting at my desk inside a concrete building, I get about 2.5 Mbit/sec down and 0.5 Mbit/sec up… on an iPhone… And it has a huge geographic 3G coverage – I’ve never been without 3G and even had complete coverage while hiking in the Warrumbungles last year.

    Warrumbungle National Park

  13. Craig says:

    I’m not sure your speed test was fair. I think one problem with your test is that mobile devices are generally slower than laptops. In other words, you really need a laptop with att wireless to compare. I had a att 3g on my laptop for quite a while and got over 1000Kbps (1Mb) download speeds. You won’t get that on any mobile device. I don’t know why att is talking about upgrading their 3g speeds when most mobile devices can’t even max out current 3g speeds on att.

    ATT uses HSPA which does support higher speeds than EVDO Rev A that verizon uses. It also has the advantage of supporting concurrent voice and data – which EVDO Rev A cannot. Verizon on the other hand has better coverage in the US for two reasons, 1. at least somewhat better geographic coverage in the US in general and 2. cdma/evdo use frequencies that are not blocked as easily (in buildings for instance) as gsm/hspa frequencies.

    Basically, ATT *is* faster than verizon. Whether or not your device can use the speed is another question. Coverage in your location (and even the type of building you are in) will make a big difference too of course.

    I do think Verizon has better coverage in the US than ATT and in places where there is coverage of either, att will tend to have more interference problems.

  14. Absolutely the test is flawed. It consists of one data point for each network, each running under different conditions. The margin of error is enormous.

    However, other, more rigorous studies are getting the same results:

    What’s clear is that “your mileage may vary”. Performance depends a lot on where you live and work. However, outright claims that any one network is “fastest” for all its users are dubious, especially in the light of real data.

    Since you asked, the reason AT&T is focusing on speed is because Verizon has them beat for coverage, Sprint and T-Mobile have them beat on price, and AT&T scores poorly on tests of network reliability. The only thing they have to talk about is speed.

    As a member of a two-carrier family, I’m just glad that when my iPhone has no bars I can always grab my wife’s or kid’s Verizon phone and make a call. And I never even knew what those bars were for when I carried a Verizon phone. :-)

  15. Solamar says:

    Odd.. Those tests above don’t seem to reflect ATT ‘3G’ speeds. Those are EDGE speeds for ATT.

    I know.. I’ve used speedtest on my iphone 3gs in 3g areas many times while traveling around michigan and get 1.5meg down and about 380k up consistantly (while in Detriot, Lansing or Grand Rapids).

    I live in Kalamazoo, (No ATT 3G, but Verizon doesh ave 3G here) and here I get the above reported speeds for ATT EDGE service.

    Soo.. what does that test above prove other than he doesn’t live in a ATT 3G area or has 3G turned off? lol

  16. Solamar says:

    On the bright side. ATT has finished purchasing Centenial and now says 3G will be availabe here by end 4th quarter. :)

  17. The “3G” indicator was on. I’ve seen times when “E” is on for the EDGE network, so I know the difference.

  18. Jeffrey Treloar says:

    Here is a link to a 3G wireless performance study conducted by PC World:


  19. G says:


    ’nuff said

    well, one thing to add, the Droid outsold the iphone last month, about time y’all got around to putting Laridian software in its format, your competition already has…

  20. “G” — Perhaps if you took an even *more* insulting tone it would encourage us to get it done even faster.

  21. Dan Wilson says:

    G… You *might* be correct about the Droid outselling the iPhone last month but I don’t think so… I’ve googled it and can’t find a reliable source. On the other hand, I’ve seen reliable reports showing that Google itself thinks the iPhone is still outselling ALL Android devices by 3:2. That’s still a great accomplishment for Android but nowhere near your claim. So, would you mind posting a link or a google search term?

  22. chris says:

    ummm is this a joke? In bellevue, not even seattle a major city i get 1.5 mbps and in seattle i get 2.0 on ATT. I dont know about you but there is no way verizon has anywhere near the same speeds as ATT here. Verizon gets 800 kb/s max

  23. Alan says:

    You’all should try living in the boon docks. I had ATT for 10 years and finally had enough of the EDGE network. Verizon phone coverage isn’t as good as ATT but it’s data outside metropolitan areas just kills ATT. That is the point of their commercials they actually care about the rest of us and are going after our business. ATT is skipping 3G coverage for the rest of us. I assume they have enough problems upgrading bandwidth in most of the cities right now. I live in central MO btw.

  24. Solamar says:

    Weel, Droid is on multiple carriers, including ATT, Verions, T-Mobile, etc. This is where apple is shooting iteself in the foot and needs to wake up and expand to other carriers..

    Now, if you did a compairison on number of driods vs iPhone sold in ATT alown, then I’d be more interested.

    I think the landscape would be very different if iPhone was sold at other carriers.. We’ll see if Apple wakes up to this in 2011 when there contract is up with ATT.

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