3G, 4G networks tested by CES crowds


The recently completed Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas provided a unique proving ground for wireless networks. With tens of thousands of the geekiest of the geeks roaming around a couple of square miles, chances are slim that there is ever a denser concentration of mobile devices fighting for airwaves than at this event.
This proved a compelling back drop for RootMetrics and its smart phone application that is designed to both test the quantity and quality of coverage for a carrier’s network in a live environment using devices that consumers can purchase. For this year’s CES event, RootMetrics used its software to test both 3G and “4G” networks from the nation’s top operators between Jan. 6 through Jan. 9.
(One side note, RootMetrics said it hoped to release this data on an ongoing basis during the show, however the company experienced extreme network congestion using the very networks it was testing and thus was unable to provide those daily reports.)
Overall, RootMetrics found that T-Mobile USA Inc.’s (DTEGY) 3G network provided the fastest average data speeds during the course of the event. Using a Google Inc. Nexus One device, RootMetrics recorded an average download speed of nearly 2.5 megabits per second and 730 kilobits per second on the uplink over T-Mobile USA’s HSPA-based 3G network.
AT&T Mobility (T) managed to score the second fastest download speeds with RootMetrics measuring an average speed of 570 kbps also using a Nexus One device. The carrier’s download speeds just surpassed the 545 kbps recorded on Verizon Wireless’ (VZ) 3G network using a Motorola Inc. Droid X device. Sprint Nextel Corp.’s (S) 3G network posted by far the slowest average download speed of 153 kbps using an HTC Corp. Evo 4G device with the “4G” mode disabled.
The rankings changed on the upload portion as Verizon Wireless posted the second highest speeds at 563 kbps, which was just a touch quicker than its recorded download speeds. Sprint Nextel posted the third fastest upload speeds at an average of 350 kbps, or twice its download speeds, while AT&T Mobility’s network was only able to support average speeds of 55 kbps on the uplink.
As for ultimate speeds achieved during the show, T-Mobile USA’s 3G network managed to post a download speed of just over 5 Mbps and an upload speed of 1.5 Mbps; AT&T Mobility posted a top download speed of 3.3 Mbps and upload speed of 526 kbps; Verizon Wireless managed a top download speed of 1.5 Mbps and upload speed of 786 kbps; while Sprint Nextel managed a top download speed of 886 kbps and upload speed of nearly 1.1 Mbps.
In terms of 3G network reliability, RootMetrics found that Verizon Wireless’ network showed the most consistent performance with access failure rates of near 0% on day one of the event, less than 11% failure rate on day two and less than 2% failure rates on day three and four.
To the surprise of few Apple Inc. iPhone users, AT&T Mobility’s network posted an 89% failure rate during the first day of the show, while the second day of the event saw upload network failures 26% of the time and download failures 31% of the time.
Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA’s 3G networks were also challenged during the first day of the show with Sprint Nextel’s CDMA-based network recording a 45% failure rate and T-Mobile USA’s network recording a 53% failure rate. RootMetrics noted that all three carriers posted significantly better scores for day three and four of the event with failure rates of less than 15% for day three and less than 2% for day four.
How 4G fared
While 3G networks were not surprisingly heavily taxed during the event, the burgeoning 4G networks touted by carriers had an easier time.
Sprint Nextel’s WiMAX-based network, which is actually offered through its partnership with Clearwire Corp., managed to post an average download speed of 7.5 Mbps and upload speed of 958 kbps during the show. Peak speeds posted by the network were 12 Mbps on the downlink and 1.4 Mbps on the uplink, as measured on the Evo 4G device.
T-Mobile USA’s HSPA+-based 4G network managed to an average download speed of 3.3 Mbps and upload speed of 869 kbps during the event as measured on a HTC G2 device. The network peak performance topped out at nearly 7.9 Mbps on the downlink and 2.3 Mbps on the uplink.
RootMetrics noted that Sprint Nextel’s WiMAX service suffered the least network degradation during the event across both 4G and 3G networks with less than 3% failure rates for all four days of the event. T-Mobile USA’s 4G network proved not quite as robust as it suffered similar fates as its 3G offering, including a 63% download and 49% upload failure rate during the second day of the event.
Next year should provide a more thorough 4G network comparison as Verizon Wireless’ recently launched LTE services are set to support a gaggle of smart phones, T-Mobile USA is on record as planning to double its network’s theoretical network speeds and AT&T Mobility should have its LTE-based 4G services up and running.

About Author

Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”