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Which carrier offers the fastest mobile data and coverage: 4G / 3G speed comparison

Which carrier offers the fastest mobile data and coverage: 4G / 3G speed comparison

4G LTE has brought blazingly fast Internet to our mobile devices, with speeds often even higher than what home Internet connections offer. However, not all carriers are equal in their offerings, and speeds can vary hugely on different carriers. Nowadays, most major US metropolitan areas are well covered, but speeds still differ hugely and while a carrier might deliver extremely high speeds in one area, in a different area it might deliver a much slower connection.

To see what is the current reality of US carriers’ cellular data speeds, we are comparing America’s top 4 carriers: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. For this comparison we are looking separately at 4G and 3G speeds, as well as at latency. We have used data from the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the United States to come up with nation-wide averages (but you can also see the results per area). For the actual speeds, we are using publicly available data from OpenSignal's excellent maps. OpenSignal takes its data from over 1 million consumer devices, which is a great sample size. Here are the 20 metros we used for this comparison:

  • We compare the data speeds offered by the four largest US carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile

    New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Washington DC
  • San Francisco
  • Boston
  • Philadelphia
  • Dallas
  • Miami
  • Which carrier offers the fastest mobile data and coverage: 4G / 3G speed comparison
    Houston
  • Atlanta
  • Detroit
  • Seattle
  • Phoenix
  • Minneapolis
  • Cleveland
  • Denver
  • San Diego
  • Portland
  • Orlando

4G speed comparison


First, let’s start off with 4G connectivity speeds. Surprisingly for some, T-Mobile has the lead with the absolutely fastest download speeds (averaging 8.1Mbps) across the 20 biggest US metros. AT&T is a close runner-up, scoring an average downlink speed of 7.64Mbps. Verizon gets the distant third spot with speeds averaging 5.59Mbps, while Sprint scores (now, traditionally) the lowest speeds of 4.62Mbps. Those are the nation averages, but we would recommend you look at not just the nation averages, but also at your particular area to see which carrier has the fastest speeds there.

We have used download speeds as the most common denominator, but if you look at upload speeds, the situation is radically different: Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all hover around the 6Mbps mark, while T-Mobile is much slower, averaging just below 3Mbps. This means that if uploading content on the go in the fastest possible manner is a priority to you, T-Mobile is probably not the best choice.

3G speed comparison


Turning to 3G speeds, we have a situation similar to the one in the 4G rankings: T-Mobile has a huge lead in download speeds, followed by AT&T, while Verizon and Sprint are distant runner-ups. Unlike 4G, though, upload speeds on 3G are very similar among all major carriers, averaging just above 1.3Mbps (only Sprint is slower at around 1mbps).


Average US latency speeds


Finally, we also have latency data. Latency measures the time it takes a network to transfer a packet from the source to the receiver. Simply put, the lower the latency, the better your Internet experience. Latency matters in all sorts of scenarios (you’d notice how fast a page loads in your browser), but it’s crucial in situations like video conferencing and gaming. Take a look at the US nation-wide data below, to see the carriers offering the fastest latencies.


Coverage


Finally, we ought to say that we've looked at speeds and latency only, but we have not compared the actual coverage of the four biggest US carriers. 4G (and 4G LTE in particular) is one area where Verizon Wireless has the clear lead, as it covers over 500 markets, and that number includes a lot of the smaller towns where other areas don't have any outreach. Verizon's LTE network reaches over 305 million people at the moment, the most of any carrier.

AT&T was the second company to start its massive 4G LTE roll-out, and it's also the second in terms of coverage. AT&T's network covers over 270 million people, and the carrier plans to extend its coverage to nearly 300 million people by the end of the year. 

Sprint started building its 4G LTE network later than the big two, but it's stepped up coverage lately, and is on its way to reach its target of 250 million people covered by mid-2014. We should, however, note that it would take longer, though, for all these markets and people to get the Sprint Spark network upgrade, which brings faster speeds (Spark delivers 4G LTE over the 700MHz channel).

Finally, T-Mobile, another relative newcomer to the 4G LTE game, is extremely aggressive in building a fast and reliable LTE network, and the results are already apparent in terms of speed. The 'Un-carrier' has recently unveiled plans to convert its EDGE stations to 4G LTE, and while we don't have any hard numbers for T-Mobile, we know that the nation's fourth-largest operator plans to cover over 230 million people by mid-2014, 250 million people by the end of the year, and more than 301 million by mid-2015.
Coverage maps for different carriers come from Verizon's official webpage

Coverage maps for different carriers come from Verizon's official webpage


Finally, we should say that you should carefully look at all these numbers before making a definite choice - choosing the right carrier is about picking not just the fastest, but the one with adequate coverage in your area. With this, we pass the ball to you: what’s your experience with your carrier? Are you happy with the 3G/4G speeds and coverage you’re getting? Let us know in the comments below.

reference: OpenSignal maps, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile coverage maps

86 Comments
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posted on 19 Mar 2014, 10:57 15

1. NoFanboy (Posts: 204; Member since: 18 Nov 2013)


But what's the point of having the fastest if you never get LTE anywhere?

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:14 5

6. youlookfoolish (Posts: 113; Member since: 14 Dec 2012)


Bingo.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:23 15

9. Augustine (Posts: 606; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


Because, unless you're a traveling salesman, you live somewhere not anywhere?

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:03 20

17. g2a5b0e (Posts: 2097; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


Exactly. People talk so much about coverage, but that's not an important factor for everyone. I rarely leave my city/state area. If the coverage where I am is great, why should I be worried about what someone else across the country is getting? The answer: I shouldn't.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 22:34 1

63. axllebeer (Posts: 265; Member since: 05 Apr 2011)


In my small city in southeast OH, I average 15-21 Mps on the download on Sprint and about 6-8 on the upload. I'm happy. I don't travel far often but 77 north to 70 west in OH to columbus is well covered.

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 01:33 1

66. Doakie (Posts: 1099; Member since: 06 May 2009)


LOL! It says Sprint has 4 Mbps LTE in Seattle. That's a total lie. I had 2 Mbps downloads. Total BS. SPRINT SUCKS!

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 04:22 1

70. reckless562 (Posts: 617; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


Well Said!!!
whats the point of being covered everywhere, and have the Fastest speed.........IF YOU HAVE ONLY 10 GIGS TO USE?????????
point.....if its FAST, im USING IT to download/stream movies (n porn :D ) n play ps3/4 n xbox games!!!!!!
so yea UNLIMITED data all the way! and dont live in a Data Cage!! ........if u cant use 10 gigs of data on ur smart phone, ur NOT using it very Smartly!!!! so go get Sprint or TMO if ur like me n not Made of money (not yet neway :D ) kuz i can download a blueray movie or game torrent off 1. frostwire for android or 2.my hotspot on my laptop, n thats like ATLEAST 5 gigs....... so yea gud luck goin over n having to Buy more Data on at&t or vzw.....

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:11 5

24. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


Bingo.

Look, I was a Verizon customer for many, many years. Always touted their coverage. But now.....I view these carriers in a different light.

I cant wait to get on T Mo or AT&T's network.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:17 3

45. lsutigers (Posts: 696; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)


I agree that not everyone needs the Verizon coverage area, particularly for what you have to pay for it. That said, I have Verizon because I do travel for work all the time (not a salesman) and need the coverage. Our company uses Sprint and honestly there are very few places where I get native service with one and not the other. Additionally, Sprint and Verizon have roaming agreements so I rarely lose service.

As for speeds, nationwide avg for TMO is 8.1, VZW is 5.59 and Sprint is 4.62. Not a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Also, those numbers dont include Sprint Spark which is a lot faster.

But with all this talk about speed, does it really matter?

I have used my smartphone at 6mbps and 40mbps and you CANNOT tell the difference. HD videos which are about as intense a strain on a network load fine at 2mbps on 3G. Hotspot is a different story and for that Spark is king.

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 04:21

69. reckless562 (Posts: 617; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


i like spark.......Boom!!! AAAAHHHH my HAAANNDD!!!! .....lol idk :D

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:48 2

13. PBXtech (Posts: 966; Member since: 21 Oct 2013)


Target. Most of the US population lives within 20 miles of a major city. It's business to target the highest population areas first and build outward from there.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:17

20. av911 (Posts: 126; Member since: 19 Nov 2012)


What good is having the coverage with the slowass speed?

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:28

22. Adammcc (Posts: 2; Member since: 19 Mar 2014)


vv ww.speedtest.net/my-result/a/568047740

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 22:39 1

64. axllebeer (Posts: 265; Member since: 05 Apr 2011)


s**t!

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 14:24

34. PAPINYC (Posts: 2178; Member since: 30 Jul 2011)


Thank you, all my friends in NY with T-Mobile have to use Wi-Fi when they travel to cities like Miami, Dallas, San Fransisco, Seattle, etc, so, what's the freakin' use??

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 20:30 2

55. czarniko253 (Posts: 12; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)


You are so very wrong about seattle, around the city I always get at least 40mbps on my note3

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 20:39

56. czarniko253 (Posts: 12; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)


You are so very wrong about seattle, around the city I always get at least 40mbps on my note3

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 20:48 1

57. andynaija (Posts: 423; Member since: 08 Sep 2012)


1. Either your friends are using a different carrier other than T-Mobile.

2. They must be using Wi-Fi so they don't reach their data cap.

3. You're trying to downplay T-Mobile, because the DFW metro, and all the other cities you mentioned, are covered with excellent T-Mobile signal.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 21:18 1

60. g2a5b0e (Posts: 2097; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


Exactly. He's a troll & a sh*tty one at that.

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 04:18

68. reckless562 (Posts: 617; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


whats the point of being covered everywhere, and have the Fastest speed.........IF YOU HAVE ONLY 10 GIGS TO USE?????????

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 05:18 1

71. g2a5b0e (Posts: 2097; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


What do you keep blabbing on about? For 99%+ of consumers, 10GB a month is more than enough.

posted on 22 Mar 2014, 08:12

83. reckless562 (Posts: 617; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


blabing????? if 10 gigs is plenty, then they dont know the true power of their phone!!!!
why does a phone cost so much? kuz it can do WAYYYYY more that 10 Gigs worh of stuff. why do providers charge so much? kuz the KNOW that phones can do alot, n if ppl wana do alot on their phones, they gona have to Pay!! greedy vzw will lose once the other companies (not at&t) get their 4G networks together

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:04 2

2. harvardale (Posts: 13; Member since: 22 Jul 2011)


I wish they would have done Columbus, OH. Verizon's LTE absolutely blows here.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:36

11. papss (unregistered)


Ha! I live in Cincinnati area

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:43

12. irellemot (Posts: 31; Member since: 29 Nov 2012)


They should have tested the Kansas City area. Its hard not to get at least 12 Mbps here, on average I get about 20 on my nexus 5. Back when they began rolling it out here, believe it or not I got 47 on my old gnex.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 21:47 1

61. rdaex (Posts: 72; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


Buddy and me did speed tests in Grove City... His speed(VZW) was .5 megs on LTE, mine (TMO) was almost 20.
Thats ridiculous.. and I cant believe people buy the 'network' hype.

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 14:51

82. harvardale (Posts: 13; Member since: 22 Jul 2011)


Yep. I consistently get 0.5-2 down in Columbus. Once I get about 25 miles outside of Columbus it jumps to 10+.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 22:41

65. axllebeer (Posts: 265; Member since: 05 Apr 2011)


Most areas of Columbus Sprints LTE is pretty awesome. Fewer customers, less strain on the network :)

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:05 6

3. moronman66 (Posts: 159; Member since: 09 Jan 2012)


I've got to say, I like T-Mobile. I have LTE where I am (around Seattle, WA), and it's honestly reliable. that being said, when I traveled to eastern Washington, I had 2g along the way and LTE in Spokane. Not the most coverage, but good enough for me and i get unlimited and I don't have to deal with sprint lol

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:08 2

4. WillieFDiaz (Posts: 36; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


Sprint Spark does not deliver LTE over 700Mhz channel.. Its over the 2.5Ghz frequency.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:56 1

15. true1984 (Posts: 582; Member since: 23 May 2012)


wrong. spark is 800Mhz, 1900Mhz, and 2.5Ghz. its tri-band

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 14:42 3

35. Joshua9007 (Posts: 61; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


There is a lot more to spark than just the 2.5Ghz frequency (which will eventually allow the TDD-LTE 20Mhz channels to be bonded together with LTE-Advanced and offer theoretical speeds of over 2Gb/s)

Spark will be the tri-band service brand name, but many areas that are not urban areas and 2.5Ghz will not allow blanket coverage, will still get the 800Mhz LTE service. Which will not only help with coverage and in-building service, but in the majority of the country will be another 5x5Mhz LTE carrier which doubles the capacity of their current 5x5Mhz PCS 1900Mhz service. Along with that there are areas that will have the ability to re-purpose some existing PCS spectrum for LTE as well.

This article uses speed tests on an incomplete network for sprint, as many of these areas only have 50% of the towers with LTE on the first PCS band, and tests were conducted before spark was even deployed.

What the moral of this story is that Sprint will be very competitive in areas where they have service once all of these measures are in place. And I can't wait to see the landscape after another 6mo.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 18:41

53. tuminatr (Posts: 656; Member since: 23 Feb 2009)


exactley I have seen where they have come to in the last six months it will be interisting

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:14

5. youlookfoolish (Posts: 113; Member since: 14 Dec 2012)


Rain is wet, the sky is blue....

Another click bait article in the same vein as the dumb latency article yesterday. It just riles up fan boys and gives T-Mobile fans in particular reason to bark over something that is common knowledge and no one cares about.

NoFanboy said it best. What good is fast when it is in few places? T-Mobile hopes to cover 230 million by 2014? The fastest reaches the fewest. Like I said, rain is wet. We all know this.

So T-Mobile fans are proud to jump in their fast corvettes. Too bad they may not make it to a gas station. As everyone else will tell them. And the same old arguments and points will be made. Dumb. This article sucks.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:22 7

8. Augustine (Posts: 606; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


I'm no fanboy. I'd switch from T-mobile in heartbeat for another good deal. But as long as T-mobile serves me in the few places that matter to me and where I live, I couldn't care less that a carrier covers other 304,999,999 people.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:19 2

25. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


Exactly.

Every carrier has dead zones....even the mighty Verizon. I lived n worked in a Verizon dead zone for years.

That being said.....Sprint and T Mo were sporadic at best in my area. A female co worker could use her Sprint EVO in a hallway at work where my 2 Motorola phones wouldnt work. Its like there was a Sprint tower on the building.

At my apt a different story...and I lived a few miles from work. I will give Verizon credit for consistency...but 3G speeds will go to GSM networks now unless Verizon upgrades their 3G network. And AT&T might have had better reception in my area...my PS Vita could get online with 3G better than any Verizon phone I had. That inluded 3 Moto phones.....the arguable king of phone reception...or one of the kings....

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:01 1

40. lsutigers (Posts: 696; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)


It's very possible. Depending on who your company uses for wireless service and how many lines they have, many times the carrier will install a signal booster (femtocell) device to provide better coverage. Sprint has a ton of business/enterprise/government customers so it's probable.

posted on 20 Mar 2014, 08:12

77. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


Didnt know that...interesting.

And I did work in a govt building. Makes sense.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:06 8

18. g2a5b0e (Posts: 2097; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


It's funny how the article suddenly becomes "click bait" & sucks when it doesn't reflect the results you want to hear. No surprises here.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:19

46. PapaSmurf (Posts: 7317; Member since: 14 May 2012)


Lol right?

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:38 5

29. DigitalJedi_X2 (banned) (Posts: 346; Member since: 30 Jan 2012)


So it's click bait when your precious Sprint isn't looking so good huh? Typical fanboy attitude. Loves to call everyone a fanboy and yet doesn't realize he's the biggest fanboy of them all.

Anyway, like others have been saying, who cares if your carrier doesn't get great service where you don't live and do business? I'm out in Rochester NY and get excellent coverage from T-Mobile. I couldn't care less if there's no coverage in Nowheresville, Alabama because I don't live there and don't plan on ever going.

If your carrier works great in your area then that's all you need to really worry about.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:42

30. g2a5b0e (Posts: 2097; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


You hit the nail on the head as usual, Jedi. +100

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:50

31. DigitalJedi_X2 (banned) (Posts: 346; Member since: 30 Jan 2012)


Thanks g2a5b0e!

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:09

42. lsutigers (Posts: 696; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)


Dude Sprint and Verizon are close when it comes to data speeds about 1mbps average difference and this does not count Sprint Spark.

Nationwide avg for TMO is 8.1, VZW is 5.59 and Sprint is 4.62. Not a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention that coverage wise, Sprint, not to mention VZW are way ahead of TMO.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:20

48. PapaSmurf (Posts: 7317; Member since: 14 May 2012)


You literally missed his point. Literally.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:20

7. Augustine (Posts: 606; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


Besides the obvious ranking, I noticed a few curious things.

One is that the 4G upload speed at T-mobile is roughly the same as its 3G upload speed.

Another is that in San Diego, the home of CDMA's inventor, Qualcomm, the CDMA carriers, Sprint and Verizon, stink badly.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:29

10. Tuxedo (Posts: 110; Member since: 19 Mar 2013)


Where is PR on the Verizon map? lol

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 16:21

49. PapaSmurf (Posts: 7317; Member since: 14 May 2012)


Good question. I'll admit T-Mobile isn't the greatest in PR, but I can always use a AT&T Go! phone and only use it for a few days.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 11:52 3

14. PBXtech (Posts: 966; Member since: 21 Oct 2013)


Bottom maps are extremely misleading. While it's true about LTE, when you factor in the other 4G network types, you get a totally different picture. T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, for example, has great speeds but isn't included in the LTE coverage shown above.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 14:01

32. Augustine (Posts: 606; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


I wondered about that myself. Are the HSPA+ results folded into 3G, thus placing T-mobile in the lead?

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 14:51

36. PBXtech (Posts: 966; Member since: 21 Oct 2013)


I think the results shown above are pure LTE. They received a ton of money from AT&T and sunk it into their network, covering the major cities with their new LTE roll out.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:00

16. aditya.k (Posts: 455; Member since: 10 Mar 2013)


So it means your downloads speed will be like 1MB/sec? I get that here in India with 3G. Or is there something that I'm confused about? :/

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:09 1

19. mike2959 (Posts: 193; Member since: 08 Oct 2011)


Couple factoids...
These are the actual city's, not metropolitan outlying suburbs, which is where the people live. The decline of almost every population of every city in this country is right in the census.
Point is, do the speed test in the top 20 suburbs.
Also at the end of tthe day it's about footprint of coverage, it's nice you can say that you have 90% of New York covered, but it's in 5 cities.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:25

21. Adammcc (Posts: 2; Member since: 19 Mar 2014)


I'm pushing 65 Mb/s in Cadada on LTE??? 5-9mb on 3G. whats up with that??
here is a speed test :)

vww.speedtest.net/my-result/a/568047740

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 12:54 1

23. RandomUsername (Posts: 353; Member since: 29 Oct 2013)


I hate it when they market HSPA+ (3.9G) as LTE or 4G. Just wanted to throw that out there.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:21

26. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


I agree. It was understandable before LTE rolled out. But now? Its not necessary anymore.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:22

27. zennacko (Posts: 222; Member since: 16 Jun 2013)


T-Mo's network proven solid once again, yet another point to Legere and da gang. People may complain about upload speeds but the upload bandwidth is used for:

*Uploading your vines, instagram selfies
*...And your data to the almighty eye of US Government
* Your messaging apps
* Hangouts or Skype calls (live conferences)

Except for live conferences, 2mbps upload should be more than enough. Sprint needs to use that excessive UL bandwidth for downloads IMO, nobody really needs more than 5mbps on a cell phone, it's overkill.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 13:35 3

28. genkidama20 (Posts: 31; Member since: 10 Feb 2012)


From experience, switching from Verizon to T-Mo this month, I have not missed Verizon's coverage. In fact, I seem to get slightly better speeds with T-Mo. So, these charts are fairly accurate. The only thing I've noticed is my monthly bill went down DRAMATICALLY.

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 14:09

33. networkdood (Posts: 6246; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


I switched to T no in December...best value network for the best value phone (Nexus 5)...

posted on 19 Mar 2014, 15:07

37. darthwho (Posts: 5; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


I live in Los Angeles I switched from Verizon to TMO and I get better speeds plus a bill that's is half of what I was paying and unlimited data. I hardly ever travel so I really will not miss Verizon with their overpriced network.

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