Which carrier should you use with the Apple iPhone 4S in the States?

Which carrier should you use with the Apple iPhone 4S in the States?
Real world testing of the Apple iPhone 4S over the three major U.S. carriers that offer the device produced results that match what you might expect. The test was done by Apple Insider and while they only represent the results from a limited area of the country, they do give an overall view on what to expect from each of the three carriers.

One thing that Sprint users of the Apple iPhone 4S have been complaining about is speed and that seems to be a valid complaint. Using the SpeedTest.net app available from both the App Store and the Android Market, Sprint's average speed in Mbps came to .559 down and .422 up. That certainly pales in comparison with AT&T's average of 1.622 Mbps down and .764 Mbps up. Right smack in the middle is Verizon with an average download speed of .724 Mbps and upload speed of .547 Mbps.

While the theoretical highest speed for the iPhone 4S that can be achieved on AT&T's HSDPA pipeline is 14.4 Mbps, the fastest speed on AT&T's network produced in real-time was 5.439 Mbps. That is not a bad score and is equivalent to a reading one might see using Wi-Fi, but still it was not close to the theoretical maximum results. The maximum speed for Big Red was 2.192 Mbps on the download side, and 2.020 Mbps for Sprint. Remember, the latter two carriers use EV-DO rev. A for data transmissions.

Another interesting aspect to the test showed that during more than half the tests (55% to be precise), Sprint's network recorded a score under .5 Mbps down. That happened to Verizon 47.6% of the time, but only 17.5% on AT&T. The truth is that AT&T's pipeline will never get caught by Verizon and Sprint's EV-DO technology which explains the rush to build out LTE service.

AT&T established itself as the fastest carrier for the Apple iPhone 4S in the States. But what about having bars on your phone when you need it the most? According to the test by Apple Insider, AT&T and Sprint are more likely than Verizon to lose its signal in fringe areas. Big Red was able to provide just enough bars to allow you to make a call without a problem in rural regions. AT&T also had more areas with no service than Verizon did. Having said that, the test shows that Verizon's 2G CDMA2000 1x service, which you might have if 3G is unavailable, appeared to be slower than EDGE is on AT&T.

AT&T is fast and Verizon is everywhere. Where does that leave Sprint? Well, Sprint is the only one of the three carriers that offers an all you can eat program for iPhone 4S users. Yet, the service appears to be so poor that it might not be worthwhile. Is it something inherent within Sprint's network? During the test, an HTC EVO 4G was tested at the same time as the Apple iPhone 4S and the Android phone had faster speeds even just over 3G. Sprint needs to get the iPhone 4S to work better on its network. And there were times when the Sprint network was able to down/uplopad data but could not get Siri, maps or email to load properly.

Remember too, other things can have an affect on network speed such as the number of smartphone totin' folks saturating an area. While conducting a test at the Hollywood Bowl (the music and arts venue, not the bowling alley), the Apple iPhone 4S was humming along with download speeds for data of 2.0 Mbps to 3.9 Mbps. Once the crowd entered and the place was full of smartphone packing people, those speeds dropped to .18 to .27 Mbps. At the same time, Verizon's speed went from 1.1Mbps to .15Mbps when the crowd was seated. Sprint's scores dropped from .66 to .73Mbps to a catatonic state of  .022Mbps.

So which carrier should you use in the States for your Apple iPhone 4S? It would seem that it would be a choice between AT&T and Verizon. If raw speed is what you want, AT&T might be the way to go. If having enough bars to get things done anytime and anywhere is of utmost importance to you, Verizon might be the way to go.

source: AppleInsider

Related phones

iPhone 4s
  • Display 3.5" 640 x 960 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 0.3 MP VGA front
  • Processor Apple A5, Dual-core, 800 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB



1. joseg81

Posts: 204; Member since: Jul 15, 2011


22. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010


2. maxkobi

Posts: 30; Member since: Jun 17, 2011

i would always go with whats everywhere over whats best in one location... but who cares if your humming along at LTE speeds on Big Red with unlimited data? cant beat that! and everywhere i go in Indiana has 4G where is stay (south bend, West Lafayette, Indianapolis) and at least 3g when i drive between them. yeah the iphone might not count right now since its 3G only but in the summer when the 5 comes out (if it does) i would be theoretically cruising in LTE all the time thanks to Verizon! doesn't matter through because ill be on my galaxy nexus!

3. markusmaximous

Posts: 6; Member since: Mar 18, 2011

I'm getting around 7Mb/S down and 3Mb/S up on AT&T.

4. Synack

Posts: 688; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

And I can actually make phone calls on Verizon.

12. nwright94 unregistered

And i can on AT&T just fine with my Focus =) Haven't had one dropped call in the past 2-3 years that i've been with them.

8. The_Miz

Posts: 1496; Member since: Apr 06, 2011


15. tuminatr

Posts: 1158; Member since: Feb 23, 2009

I got 35.56Mbps down and 16.56Mbps up on my RAZR here in saint paul

21. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

That is f*cking awesome! The best I have seen on the S.F. peninsula (San Mateo/Burlingame area) is 26 mb/s down. 35 mb/s is flying!

24. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

I moving to St. Paul!!

26. rhurk

Posts: 8; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

I got the same thing with my Razr in Grand Rapids the guy sitting next to me about crapped his pants when he say the results :)

32. Cwebb

Posts: 501; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

GR is so f***ing fast. I live in Jackson and go up there to see college friends and can't believe how fast my Evo 3d zips along up there

29. beruit17

Posts: 7; Member since: Jun 16, 2011

I've gotten 39.8 in Basking Ridge!!

38. xvengence42

Posts: 20; Member since: Dec 12, 2011

congratz. id rather have a phone that is going to last more than a year and still open apps and perform other everyday tasks without lag.

19. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

And I am getting 22+ mb/s down and 10+ mb/s up on VZW's LTE network in the San Mateo, CA area. This is better than my cable service with Comcast. Co-workers who have the 4S (slow version) on AT&T are waiting for the same e-mail attachment to download while I have already composed a reply and sent it. If Apple doesn't put an LTE radio in the next iPhone, they are going to see sales erosion. You heard it first on PA.

5. androidphan

Posts: 32; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

Verizon is clearly the best for reliability. I want my phone to work where ever I go, that's why I stick with Verizon. Had AT&T in the past, it was poor for coverage. I would never consider sprint.

6. Penny

Posts: 1869; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

I'm biased, but I vote Verizon. Works great for my family, which is spread out from the west coast to the east coast, and we travel freely within the U.S. with no problems whatsoever. In terms of price, Sprint's $80 per month plan is probably the best offer. AT&T most likely offers the best 3G speeds for the iPhone, so that's where you would go if that is what you cared about most. So basically: Verizon = Cellular Service | Sprint = Price | AT&T = 3G Speeds

7. Penny

Posts: 1869; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

Oh, also Sprint = Unlimited Data. Those on Verizon and AT&T who are grandfathered into unlimited data are fine, but for new customers, Sprint is your iPhone 4S option for unlimited data.

13. nwright94 unregistered

Very slow unlimited data...but the prices are great!

20. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

"...but the prices are great!" When the speed is so slow, the pricing better be great. Otherwise, customers will leave in droves.

27. TalkingTechy

Posts: 97; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

With Sprint's data speeds that slow, is Unlimited Data really necessary? And it's not only about speed, it's also about reliability. As the article states, "...there were times when the Sprint network was able to down/uplopad data but could not get Siri, maps or email to load properly." AT&T may not be heralded as the most reliable network (although I've never had issues), but it looks like AT&T is the network to be on for the most speed. Agreed with the article: Choose Verizon if you need a reliable data/voice connection (more bars in more places). Go with Sprint if you absolutely need Unlimited data, but as a previous article stated, you may or may not be grandfathered in when it goes away. It's not guaranteed at this point.

9. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

The real word difference in speed between at&t and verizon id negilible. Maybe 1 to two seconds loading a web page. Whereas the coverage is huge. Verizon please.

17. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

not really.. i notice a big difference with my att iphone in speed

23. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Used them back to back and could hardly tell the difference. Even lte wasnt a huge difference when loading a web page compared to vzw iphone

30. christony1120

Posts: 65; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

are you stupid its like 10 seconds

10. mandkeee

Posts: 82; Member since: Feb 27, 2009

thai dont trust that test...u know why? because LA has more AT&T towers than verizon and sprint. but in NY , NJ , PA , GA , boston , and all states of east side are much much better for Verizon.

11. rcrider4

Posts: 118; Member since: Nov 14, 2011

I'm getting a Sprint iPhone 4S for Christmas, so I'm hoping for the best. The price can't be beat, and unlimited data is going to be awesome, plus I live in an area with great signal, so I should be doing just fine

14. omarc26

Posts: 360; Member since: Dec 05, 2009

Well if i had to choose an iphone 4s which its never gonna happen cuz i have an LG nitro i would choose the at&t version. I KNOW for sure im gonna get thumbs down from some verizon fans. Because i had verizon i had plenty of phones from them droid charge, thunderbolt etc i had 1 to no bars of service in my place till i gave up on them . The only reason i had them cuz everyone at work praised verizon they were all like verizon is the best etc.. i never had more dropped calls in my loft in downtown LA before. I admit everywhere else reception was good except the place im the most in my room. Switched to at&t now i have full bars in my room , restroom elevator etc everywhere were i had crappy reception on verizon. And besides at&t network is not that bad as everyone makes it out to be. I admit i was SCARED switching to them cuz everyone talks bad about them and so far i had no dropped calls and no problems with coverage . And now a plus for me is that it works in mexico and i get 3G while roaming in mexico were as verizon crapped out in mexico and the only times i would find a signal it was a crappy 1x signal.

16. Contreramanjaro

Posts: 153; Member since: Dec 04, 2011

Looking at the averages picture on the right, Sprint does not seem so bad when compared. The picture on the left shows a slower than average speed for Sprint and higher than average speeds for ATT and Verizon. I'm just saying, people will scroll to the bottom and see a picture of what seems to be a random test rather than the much more subtle averages report even though it is explained fine in the text about 10% of the people will read. The differences IMO are about what you'd expect from a more budget oriented carrier. .559 vs. .724 on the average seems acceptable. There's a reason you pay more for Verizon and get data capped. That being said, for some reason the Sprint iPhone is just not performing that well in data for most of the speed articles I've seen. From my limited trials with the phone however, real world performance was always about even with ATT. In less populated places ie Bloomington IN, I saw ATT speeds around 4Mbps and 1.2Mbps or so on Sprint. Verizon fell in around the same but I don't remember any numbers. In my experience, Sprint beats ATT in coverage in Indiana, even if you drop to 2G or just have data roaming (free on my Sprint plan.) I've ended up with my friend (ATT) between two fields in the middle of nowhere with almost no signal and it always seems the Sprint phone is able to pull out a GPS map and get us where we're going.

33. Cwebb

Posts: 501; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

I drove to Indi over the weekend (for obivous reasons) and I think that Sprint's 3g there is horrid, I went up and down I-96 and was roaming the whole time

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