Which 4G Phone is Fastest?

Category: Mobile

Smartphone makers and cell phone carrier services are touting 4G, as in fourth generation. A lot of hype surrounds the term 4G, and many consumers just want to cut to the chase: what is the fastest 4G phone? Unfortunately, the answer isn't simple or final...

The Fastest 4G Phone

First, an inconvenient truth... true 4G is not here yet, and won't arrive for several years. What Verizon hypes as "4G" is really the 3GPP Long Term Evolution standard (LTE). Sprint's "4G" network is actually WiMAX. T-mobile and AT&T call their HSPA+ network "4G." The only thing truly "fourth" about these technologies is that they have appeared right after the third.

True 4G, a work in progress, will be really, really fast - at least 100 Mbps! For reference, that's 5 or 10 times faster than the best high-speed connection most consumers can currently get. But here's the good news: what vendors now call "4G" actually is a significant improvement over 3G networks.

PC World magazine conducted speed tests of the four major U.S. "4G" networks in January, 2011. Verizon did not have a 4G LTE phone at that time, so let's start by comparing laptop modem speeds.
Fastest 4G Mobile Phone

Verizon's 4G LTE won decisively, clocking average download speeds more than twice as fast as second-place T-Mobile. AT&T placed third, and Sprint fourth. Verizon's average download speed was 6.44 Mbps, faster than many cable modem connections. T-Mobile came in at 2.83 Mbps; AT&T at 2.48; and Sprint averaged 2.15 Mbps.

When it came to smartphones, the rankings changed. T-mobile was fastest with 2.28 Mbps. Sprint was second with 1.50 Mbps. AT&T came in third at 1.45 Mbps and Verizon (using a 3G phone and network) finished at 1.01Mbps. As you can see, even "faux 4G" has a considerable advantage over 3G.

The Latest 4G Speed Test Results

Then things change again, only two months later. In March, 2011, Verizon launched the HTC Thunderbolt smartphone using the Android 2.2 operating system. In one test, the Thunderbolt delivered over 11 Mbps in download speed, and a startling 4 Mbps when uploading. T-mobile's Samsung Galaxy-S 4G phone hit 10.34 Mbps on the download and 7.81 Mbps uploading. AT&T's HTC Inspire 4G delivered 3.15 Mbps down and 2.13 Mbps up. Sprint's HTC Evo Shift 4G reached 3.27 Mbps down and 2.71 Mbps up.

By way of comparison, the iPhone 4 on AT&T's 3G network downloaded at 2.93 Mbps and uploaded at 1.78 Mbps.

Yes, it's confusing, and it's going to stay that way for years. Carriers' 4G networks (which aren't true 4G) will roll out slowly, so faster phones won't get you faster speeds everywhere. New, improved "4G" smartphones are popping up every day. Paradoxically, the 4G experience may even slow down as carrier coverage and 4G phones expand. It's important to check your carrier's 4G coverage map to make sure you can receive a 4G signal in your area.

Users have insatiable demand for speed. As more of them buy 4G phones and service, the networks will become heavily loaded and, in high-traffic areas, speeds will slow down. Part of the speed advantage of "4G" in the test results shown above is due simply to less congestion on the current, embryonic 4G networks.

For now, I'm willing to say that Verizon's HTC Thunderbolt is the fastest 4G phone on the market. If you use T-Mobile, the Samsung Galaxy-S is a very close second. But stay tuned, the answer to the "fastest 4G phone" question is bound to change next month, or maybe next week!

Do you have something to say about 4G phones? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which 4G Phone is Fastest?"

Posted by:

Tom Clarke
01 Jun 2011

There is still a controversy over the proposed frequency assignment for the 4G network. It is adjacent to the GPS satellite band and causes errors in the vicinity of the 4G towers. Since the FCC is staffed with lawyers rather than engineers, there is no telling the outcome!

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