Who Has The Best 4G Service?
Choosing a mobile 4G service provider can be confusing. Verizon claims "More 4G coverage than all the others combined," while AT&T boasts that they are "The nation's largest 4G network." Can they BOTH be telling the truth? Read on for help with unravelling these claims, and some tips on selecting 4G mobile phone service...
There's 4G and Then There's 4G...
AT&T and Verizon Wireless are both claiming to have the best 4G service. Which one covers the most geographic territory? Which is faster? The answers to these questions are ambiguous, depending on how you define “4G” and whose speed tests you believe. It’s easier to compare the companies’ data plans and pricing, but even that can be confusing.
When it comes to coverage, AT&T is fudging on its claim to have the largest 4G network. That’s true only if you count the souped-up version of 3G service as “4G.” AT&T’s older network is based on HSPA+, an enhanced version of the 3G HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) that AT&T has used for years. If you consider this a 4G service, then AT&T can cover about 250 million Americans.
Verizon uses 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution), which experts generally agree is a “true” 4G technology. It is a brand-new standard rather than an upgrade of an older one. Whereas HSPA+ is the pinnacle of 3G technology, LTE is the base of a mountain from which even better 4G service can grow.
Looking only at 4G LTE coverage, it’s clear that Verizon is way ahead of AT&T. In September, 2012, CNN Money published LTE coverage maps for Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. At that time, Verizon covered 371 markets and about 75% of the U. S. population. AT&T covered 65 markets and 25% of Americans. Sprint covered just 19 markets. All three carriers are constantly building out their LTE networks, so coverage is changing. But Verizon has a big lead right now.
In terms of data speeds, there is not much difference between the LTE networks of Verizon and AT&T. The former advertises download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. The latter claims to offer the same speeds (5 to 12 Mbps) both downloading and uploading. Independent tests produce varying results.
AT&T’s HSPA+ network is significantly slower than LTE; in one test, AT&T HSPA+ delivered only 2.6 Mbps downloads. Based on that performance and AT&T’s relatively sparse LTE coverage, most customers would be better off with Verizon.
What About 4G Data Plans?
When it comes to data plans, Verizon gets kudos simply because that company has the common sense to make it easy for a customer to buy. Right here is everything I need to calculate what my Verizon shared data plan costs will be; there’s even a calculator to do the math for me. Unlimited voice and text are included with each plan.
AT&T starts by asking for my ZIP Code, a practice that always makes me wonder what the cheapest answer is, and why "price and availability are based on your location." Then it shows me a chart of options that includes no fewer than six footnotes. I have to choose between an Individual or a Family voice plan to get certain data options. If you’re an existing AT&T voice customer, you can change your data plan online; but if you’re an existing AT&T data customer, you have to call a voice number to change your data plan. New customers have to buy an AT&T device just to see what their data plan costs may be.
Who has time for this nonsense? I’ll stick with Verizon for honesty in labelling, a faster and broader 4G network, and a more transparent way of shopping for cellular service.
Of course there are other options. Sprint, T-Mobile and regional carriers may offer good deals on 4G in certain geographic locations. If you don't stray far from home, that may work for you. You should also check into prepaid 4G service to see if it makes more sense than being locked into a two-year monthly contract with hefty early termination fees. See my related article New Options for Prepaid 4G for details on a variety of prepaid 4G offerings.
Do you have 4G service? Tell me what you think about your mobile provider. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 Oct 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Who Has The Best 4G Service? (Posted: 5 Oct 2012)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved