AT&T Roars Back in PCWorld’s Second 3G Wireless Performance Test

Verizon: Signal Fading Slightly

We measured Verizon?s 13-city average download speed at 877 kbps, down 8 percent from its average of 951 kbps in our tests last spring. Verizon?s average download speed decreased in seven of twelve of our testing cities compared to the figures we recorded last spring; and in five of those cities--Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Jose, and Seattle--Verizon?s average dropped by 14 percent or more.

Verizon had the best-performing network in our tests last spring, with the fastest overall speeds and strong network reliability. But our recent test results suggest that Verizon may not be keeping up with demand in some markets.

Verizon is a bit later than its competitors to the game of supporting bandwidth-hungry smartphones on its network. Verizon says that only 15 percent of its postpaid customers (customers with service contracts) owned smartphones at the end of 2009, compared to AT&T?s 40 percent.

But increasingly, Verizon subscribers are using smarter phones that demand more broadband data service. Verizon says that its data service revenues grew from $12 billion in 2008 to $16 billion in 2009. The company's data service business will continue to grow as phones like the Motorola Droid (which reached market in November 2009) proliferate and begin taking a toll on network capacity.

In our recent tests, Verizon?s average upload speeds showed little change from our results last spring, averaging 434 kbps. Nevertheless, we saw significant changes for Verizon in some cities: Average upload speeds decreased by 21 percent in San Diego, but increased by 34 percent in Denver and by 16 percent in New York City.

Verizon?s network reliability scores in our recent tests were a mixed bag: Verizon's scores fell by 12 percent in both Baltimore and San Diego, compared with its scores in those two cities in our tests last spring. Yet in Chicago, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, and San Francisco, the company's reliability scores increased by more than 10 percent.

Verizon promises its wireless customers typical download speeds of between 600 kbps and 1.4 mbps--and in the vast majority of our tests, it delivered. Upload speeds were a different story, however. Verizon promises upload speeds of from 500 to 800 kbps, yet in only one of our 13 cities (New Orleans) did we record an average upload speed of more than 500 kbps during our laptop-based tests.

Testing the Droid on Verizon

Our smartphone-based tests revealed some significant performance limitations of the Verizon network when we connected to it with a Motorola Droid.

In our winter tests involving 260 testing locations in 13 cities, the Droid rarely approached Verizon's promised upload speed of 500 kbps. Overall, the Droid delivered an average upload speed of just 116 kbps, the lowest average of any carrier/phone combo in our smartphone tests. And in numerous tests using the Droid, we recorded upload speeds of less than 75 kbps--painfully slow if you?re trying to send data of any size up through the network.

We also had trouble establishing a reliable connection between the Verizon network and the Droid during our tests. Verizon delivered an uninterrupted signal at reasonable speed in only 76 percent of our tests--far below the success rates of the 90+ percent that the other three carriers achieved.

Download speeds to the Droid, on the other hand, were quite good, at an average of 1075 kbps; that's not far from the upper end of the speed range that Verizon promised its customers, and ranks as the second-highest average download speed in our smartphone-based tests--behind only AT&T. The Droid connected at near- or above-1000 kbps speeds in every testing city but Phoenix, where it averaged just 696 kbps on the downlink.

Verizon says that PCWorld?s assessment of its 3G performance doesn?t tally with the results it sees in its own tests. Moreover, Verizon points out, speed isn?t everything. As in its controversial ?there?s a map for that? commercials, Verizon likes to emphasize the breadth of its 3G coverage. ?Consistency, coverage, and reliability--the ability to make and keep connections, and perform the tasks they want to over our wireless network at 3G speeds in more places--is what sets Verizon Wireless apart,? says Verizon corporate communications director Thomas Pica in an e-mail message to PCWorld.

Verizon?s 3G network does indeed have easily the greatest coverage area of any network (the company says that it covers more than 90 percent of the United States). So Verizon can still brag about that.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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