A Day in the Life of 3G

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AT&T Speed Results

In our 13-city testing, AT&T's 3G network produced download speeds that averaged 818 kbps, and upload speeds that averaged 549 kbps. The network clocked some of it best results in our tests in Boston and Chicago. In Boston, AT&T's 3G network delivered an average download speed of 1259 kbps and an average upload speed of 708 kbps in our 20 test locations in the city. AT&T's Boston network also proved available at a reasonable speed in 90 percent of our tests there. In Chicago, the AT&T network clocked an average download speed of 1148 kbps and an average upload speed of 712 kbps. In New York City, the company's network delivered an average download speed of 502 kbps and an average upload speed of 308 kbps across our 20 test locations there. AT&T delivered relatively fast upload speeds (549 kbps on average) in the 13 cities we tested.

"AT&T stands behind its claim of providing the nation's fastest 3G network, as verified by two independent third-party testing companies," says AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Bridges. "The third-party companies that measure the network performance of AT&T and its competitors conduct comprehensive drive tests throughout the year, spanning more than 1 million road miles in more than 340 markets and more than 1 million 3G data sessions combined," Bridges adds.

"Beyond this third-party testing, AT&T conducts millions of its own tests across the nation to measure performance and maximize the service quality and reliability of our network. For comparison purposes, we also test our competitors' networks, as they do ours. We believe this combined data provides the most thorough, comprehensive view of the network performance of AT&T and its competitors."

Spending Big on Improvements

Over the past few months, AT&T has announced plans for big improvements to its 3G networks. The company announced in March that it would in­­vest $17 billion to $18 billion in its networks in 2009, "two-thirds of which will extend and enhance the company's wireless and wired broadband networks to provide more coverage, speed and capacity."

More recently, on May 27, AT&T announced plans to increase the speed of its 3G service by upgrading its networks to the faster High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology, utilizing more radio-frequency spectrum, increasing backhaul capacity, and adding 2100 new cell towers. The company says that it will begin the upgrade this year and expects to complete the process in 2011.

Sprint Bolsters 'Most Dependable' Claim

Of course speed isn't everything. The fastest wireless connection in the world is worth little if service gets interrupted in the middle of a session. In each city, we measured how often the AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon networks delivered poor service (similar to or slower than dial-up speed), interrupted service, or no service at all. If any of these conditions occurred during one of our tests, we labeled service at that location "faulty." Thus, if 10 out of 20 tests were faulty in a given city, we gave the operator a reliability score of 50 percent. Using that standard, we calculated an average reliability score for each service from our thousands of individual tests.

Sprint's 3G network delivered high reliability scores, especially in our testing in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle. Sprint's network proved reliable in 90.5 percent of our numerous tests across 13 cities. In fact, in Boston, Denver, and Seattle, Sprint's service earned perfect scores for reliability, proving available at reasonable speeds in 100 percent of our tests.

Sprint's vice president of network development and engineering, Iyad Tarazi, wasn't surprised by the reliability results. "We've invested heavily in our 3G network; we've made it the most critical part of our network," he says.

Nationwide, Tarazi says, Sprint simply has more base stations on the ground than its competitors do, which leads to higher reliability. "On the reliability side, you're seeing something very similar to our own [network testing] numbers," Tarazi says of our results.

Verizon's EvDO service was available at a reasonable speed in 89.8 percent of our 13-city tests. Verizon's network showed impressive reliability results in Baltimore, New Orleans, New York, Phoenix, and San Jose. In New Orleans and New York City, Verizon's 3G service showed perfect reliability throughout our testing locations in each city.

Please tell us about your own wireless broadband service experience here .

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