New nationwide test shows AT&T LTE network is fastest, Verizon is most reliable

Here in the US, we’re fortunate to have a wide selection of wireless providers with LTE networks. Where many countries have none, or just one, all four of our top carriers, and several regional carriers have deployed the technology nationwide.

But with choice comes decisions—you have to decide which LTE provider to go with. Luckily, the folks over at PC Mag have driven over 20,000 miles across the United States testing the country’s top four carriers to help you make that decision…

Before we get to the results of their testing, let’s take a look at their preparation. The site says that it sent three Ford hybrid-electric cars on a road trip across the US packed with eight Samsung phones, each attached to one of the top four carriers.

“This year, we upgraded our testing to be more consistent and more realistic. We put three Ford hybrid-electric cars on the road (for more, see “It’s Electric! Driving Ford’s High-Tech Cars”), each packed with eight identical Samsung phones to test the four major carriers’ networks: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. A new testing tool from Sensorly let us grab new measurements, like the all-important “time to first byte” which tells you how long it takes for a Web page to start to appear.”

Where did they test? The 3 Ford cars traveled to 30 different cities spread across all 6 regions of the US. Every city had both AT&T and Verizon LTE networks, and they also tested 24 of Sprint’s 110 LTE markets, and 6 of T-Mobile’s 7 LTE markets.

And now for the results:

att pcmag results

PC Mag found AT&T’s LTE network to be, on average, the fastest overall in its 30 test cities. In its first truly fair fight between LTE networks, the site found AT&T came through with faster upload and download speeds overall than Verizon Wireless.

But while AT&T’S LTE network proved faster than Verizon’s, Big Red was once again named the most reliable. The carrier had nearly a year head start in the LTE game over AT&T, and it currently covers twice as many markets. So no real surprise here.

“Verizon Wireless, as always, is the master of coverage and reliability. It’s the only truly nationwide LTE network and it generally aced our streaming and Web page download reliability tests. While its LTE network is generally a bit slower than AT&T’s, it’s still fast, and the carrier wins our Reader’s Choice awards year after year for its coverage area and general customer satisfaction levels.”

For more results, and details on how they conducted their tests, I recommend reading PC Mag’s entire report. It’s cool stuff, but I’m more interested in what these numbers will look like next year, once T-Mobile and Sprint have had the chance to catch up.

As it stands, Verizon’s LTE network is in about 500 markets around the US. AT&T is in a distant second, with roughly 280 markets. And Sprint, who just added 22 new cities yesterday, is in 119 markets. Then T-Mobile, of course, only has about 10 right now.