AT&T ranked No.1 in PCWorld's 3G network test

It may come as a surprise, but AT&T ranks number one in PCWorld's latest 13-city 3G network test. The wireless provider has undergone scrutiny for lack of coverage and poor network performance. But according to AT&T, the company has added hundreds of new cell towers and a better wireless spectrum.

According to PCWorld, the following 13 test cities were used:  Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. Although locations vary greatly in network coverage, PCWorld tried to select cities representative of the majority.

More than 51,000 separate tests spanning 850 square miles were performed by PCWorld and Novarum Inc. Network reliability, download speeds, and upload speeds on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon were calculated from 20 locations in each city during December and January. Both laptops and smartphones were used to connect to the 3G networks. The margin of error is plus or minus five percent.

Last spring, AT&T's average download speeds of 812 kbps scored the lowest in PCWorld’s 3G test. This time around, AT&T's download speeds of 1410 kbps measured 72 percent better and 67 percent faster on average than Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, according to the test. Sprint's average speeds remained nearly the same as last spring's test, while Verizon's speeds decreased by 8 percent on average. AT&T also ranked number one in upload speeds with Verizon coming in a distant second.

As AT&T's subscriber count continues to grow (from 77 million to 85 million customers during 2009), so must the network. Forty percent of AT&T's subscribers use smartphones, and according to AT&T spokesperson Jenny Bridges, "advanced smartphones like the iPhone are driving up to 10 times the amount of usage of other devices on average."

For full results, visit PCWorld.

PC World 3G network test

Image courtesy of PCWorld

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29 Comments

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Verizon is over rated and I wish people would open their eyes and realize that their services are over rated and over priced.

There's no 3G coverage for T-Mobile where I live, so when I'm at home, I have to use the Edge network, and it's STILL faster then what my Blackberry was with Verizon on the 3G network.

@NeoandGeo: You're lucky. With Verizon, it took me about 1 minute to download an 800kb file, or about 30 seconds for a typical web page to load on my Blackberry on Verizon's 3G network. That's approximately 13.3kb/sec or 106.6kbit. I felt I was being ripped off so badly.

At work, a buddy of mine had an iPhone on AT&T's 3G network, and I did a comparison with my Blackberry on Verizon's 3G network, and his iPhone with AT&T completely loaded websites before mine even connected to the web server and began loading. We did this sitting right next to each other, at the same time, in the same building.

ToastedJellyBowl said,
Verizon is over rated and I wish people would open their eyes and realize that their services are over rated and over priced.

There's no 3G coverage for T-Mobile where I live, so when I'm at home, I have to use the Edge network, and it's STILL faster then what my Blackberry was with Verizon on the 3G network.

@NeoandGeo: You're lucky. With Verizon, it took me about 1 minute to download an 800kb file, or about 30 seconds for a typical web page to load on my Blackberry on Verizon's 3G network. That's approximately 13.3kb/sec or 106.6kbit. I felt I was being ripped off so badly.

At work, a buddy of mine had an iPhone on AT&T's 3G network, and I did a comparison with my Blackberry on Verizon's 3G network, and his iPhone with AT&T completely loaded websites before mine even connected to the web server and began loading. We did this sitting right next to each other, at the same time, in the same building.

Everyone seems to forget the part of the contract that says service may vary. I get great service and have similar experiences as you do with AT&T being faster than everyone else here.

I live in the Denver area and have been to the NYC area and LA for trips and taken trips to the Chicago area (northern burbs) and my iphone has never failed me. I do notice a slow down during the evening, but I've only had a couple of drop calls here and there. If I had issues, I would leave and go to another carrier in a heartbeat, but I don't. The only thing I hate how much the service costs. My 2 cents.

good way to get a smirk is use ATT around the Mississippi River in the Midwest. Verizon has that covered and I'd almost fall for it. Went to PDC , WI and Ferryville , WI. My brothers HTC Tilt picked up a little in PDC. Nothing in Ferryville. Mine didn't work until we were well back inside Iowa.

I'm in Canada on Fido, same network as Rogers and I get around 300kb/s (2422kbps) Download and 25kb/s (206kbps) Upload on average in Day and Night. Although the 1GB bandwidth cap sucks.

Ha...Its funny how I normally get over 2x that average on download and up load they have listed for VZW. Plus I think I'd be more willing to trust independent tests over PC World's.

AT&T mobile fans tried to call everyone they knew to tell them this, but sadly, their calls kept on getting disconnected.

The first review--I have ever read--in AT&T's favor to date.
I have AT&T and I like it. Coverage is great especially since I live only a few dozen minutes away from NYC.

3g data coverage here is terrible, but when their 3g is working it is very snappy on my iPhone.

In my area they have problems keeping their 3g system up and running (or so it would seem). I'll look at my phone 1 second and have 5 bar 3g, and the next it has switched to EDGE.

I'm sorry but every friend I know who has AT&T and also happens to not be in a major city has crap coverage. constant dropped calls everyday and bad reception. I don't care how many articles that say otherwise, until I can verify with my own ears and eyes AT&T has poor coverage.

macrosslover said,
I'm sorry but every friend I know who has AT&T and also happens to not be in a major city has crap coverage. constant dropped calls everyday and bad reception. I don't care how many articles that say otherwise, until I can verify with my own ears and eyes AT&T has poor coverage.

That's with ANY carrier. You're not going to find a carrier that has great reception when not in a major city. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, they all have horrible coverage in rural areas.

Sorry, but you can't blame AT&T for that. If you want amazing coverage, move closer to a major city, and that's all there is to it.

ToastedJellyBowl said,

That's with ANY carrier. You're not going to find a carrier that has great reception when not in a major city. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, they all have horrible coverage in rural areas.

Sorry, but you can't blame AT&T for that. If you want amazing coverage, move closer to a major city, and that's all there is to it.

+1

AT&T has pretty much all of Oklahoma covered with great coverage. Never had a dropped called or lost connection to 3G since I've been here. Prolly shouldn't make blanket statements just because you went to one place and it sucked.

Sorry, but PC World doesn't impress me one little bit. Hell, if I paid enough I could get what I needed printed as well. If I could pick the top performing areas of my business, I could make myself look great too. As if they couldn't gather data from other markets, they just want the HEADLINE. Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes!

I used AT&T while in the states, their speeds were good but their coverage wasn't so good, there were plenty of places that had poor or no coverage (including small towns).

thealexweb said,
This comes across as absolute *******. I've never heard anyone say anything good about AT&T.

Your milage varies depending on where you are.

thealexweb said,
This comes across as absolute *******. I've never heard anyone say anything good about AT&T.

Same here. I have a client that uses AT&T and they complain non-stop about dropped calls. They're based out of Chicago. It's horrible. I think AT&T was just looking for a "win" and they got it. One good article vs. the hundreds of bad.

thealexweb said,
This comes across as absolute *******. I've never heard anyone say anything good about AT&T.

+1, this is totally bogus. The dig against Sprint & Verizon for not increasing their speed is crap too. Sprint has 4G that blows every one of the 3G Networks out of the water and verizon doesn't have much interest in increasing potential speed on an already-fast network -- they are focusing on expanding coverage to more areas.

Just because AT&T beefed up capacity in a few key test zones doesn't mean they are even close to #1. They are still crap and everybody knows it.

PC World, you fail.

thealexweb said,
This comes across as absolute *******. I've never heard anyone say anything good about AT&T.

Then you are only hearing what you want to, I and several of my friends have excellent service with ATT.

thealexweb said,
This comes across as absolute *******. I've never heard anyone say anything good about AT&T.

I have no issues in my area, but then again, I'm not in a huge metro area.

hagjohn said,

I have no issues in my area, but then again, I'm not in a huge metro area.

Seems like only metro's and locations that have such a low pop that there is no financial gain to building towers there have problems. People always expect the companies to take the hit because, you know, companies aren't people in anyway where job's depend on maximizing profits.

I wish they would do these in, and outside of the metropolitan areas. It's nice for AT&T to tout their truly faster network, but it's disappointing that these speeds really do not apply when traveling. Especially in the case of AT&T, the second you leave a major city, then you not only lose 3G, but you lose coverage in a lot of places too.

It's not within the major cities that AT&T has a problem, generally. It's the places that are not expected to have great 3G (such as outskirts of towns) coverage that have the issues.

From my iPhone 3GS, I have gotten a wide range of speeds in the exact same location. It ranges (within the past three days) from 471 kbps/100 kbps to 1645 kbps (max)/257 kbps (max) using XTREME Labs' "Speedtest" app. Clearly, I am running on 3G, and I have nothing to really complain about, but the consistency, or lack-there-of, is easily noticed. My max and minimum speed occurred within minutes of each other as I was testing out the application. The actual average tends to be somewhere in the ballpark of 1000 kbps/150 kbps, for me.

pickypg said,
I wish they would do these in, and outside of the metropolitan areas. It's nice for AT&T to tout their truly faster network, but it's disappointing that these speeds really do not apply when traveling. Especially in the case of AT&T, the second you leave a major city, then you not only lose 3G, but you lose coverage in a lot of places too.

It's not within the major cities that AT&T has a problem, generally. It's the places that are not expected to have great 3G (such as outskirts of towns) coverage that have the issues.

From my iPhone 3GS, I have gotten a wide range of speeds in the exact same location. It ranges (within the past three days) from 471 kbps/100 kbps to 1645 kbps (max)/257 kbps (max) using XTREME Labs' "Speedtest" app. Clearly, I am running on 3G, and I have nothing to really complain about, but the consistency, or lack-there-of, is easily noticed. My max and minimum speed occurred within minutes of each other as I was testing out the application. The actual average tends to be somewhere in the ballpark of 1000 kbps/150 kbps, for me.

Don't base your opinion on the pretty little pictures they show on their commercials. Here in Oklahoma, which is clearly out of metropolitan areas, the only reliable service is AT&T. You can go out to the national park here and the only service you get is AT&T. I got 3G coverage in areas where my friend on Verizon couldn't even make phone calls. I am not saying they are the best. There really is no way to tell which is the best because the description doesn't take into account everything that a carrier can be rated on. It all depends on where you live. I have no idea about the rest of the US, but in Oklahoma, AT&T blows the rest of the carriers out of the water when it comes to covered and speeds.

SputnikGamer said,
Don't base your opinion on the pretty little pictures they show on their commercials.

Oh, I could not care less about the map ads. The places that I go all generally have coverage, but it's the in-between that I am worried about. There is one part of the drive from my actual home, to my hometown (parents home) that simply has none on a major interstate in Virginia. Not 3G, not EDGE (2G), and not even voice. No network is immune to these issues and that is exactly why I would like to see more random areas tested.

But this is why I would like testing in non-major, but still sizable areas. How does AT&T really feel about its customers compared to Verizon, et al? They must improve the big cities because they have the most voices to complain, and that's also where the speed tests happen.

I cannot complain too much because I am in the DC area, but when I leave the bubble, it is always disappointing.

I really look forward to LTE (4G), when we can all just piggy-back off each other's networks, except Sprint's. Hopefully that will finally lead to reasonable cell phone contract prices.

Edited by pickypg, Feb 26 2010, 5:10pm : clarification

pickypg said,

but it's the in-between that I am worried about.

That's what I am saying though. Look at AT&T's own coverage maps. Oklahoma is pretty empty besides the 3 major cities here yet when I go to the middle of nowhere, 50 miles from nearest town, I still have coverage out here. I have never been anywhere in this state without coverage and I do a lot of camping/repelling/fishing trips. Out of all my friends, only the ones with AT&T always have coverage were Verizon and Sprint don't. Most of the time the other two lose voice before I even lose internet. Also, I have driven from Oklahoma to Florida, New York(state), and Montana and never lost coverage.

What it sounds like is that because you live near a high pop area, the money is focused all in that area. In Oklahoma, besides the 3 cities, there are no high pop areas so the money gets spread across the state.

It is not like a 10,000 towers can be put up overnight and while 3G has been around a few years, it hasn't been around THAT long. The same issues we see now will happen again with 4G which is why the discussions have led to the talk of sharing the towers. One company, no matter how rich, doesn't have the man power to blanket cover the whole nation. There will always be holes and until they work together with the towers, everyone company sucks for someone.

I like ATT and have good service with them but stories like these always seem to lead to people flaming each other trying to dispute the others claims, tests and results.

Every carrier has their good areas and bad areas. You just have to choose who works best for where you plan to use it. There is no best carrier for everyone. I really hate the people that pick a carrier just for the device and then complain.

I get get good speeds lhere in Colorado Springs, CO and Knoxville, TN however there are places like San Diego, CA and a few others in CA that I was getting bad speeds. I belileve Verizon was a bit better in CA.

But even in a test like this ATT still has a long way to go to correct their network issues.

PsyOpWarlord said,
I like ATT and have good service with them but stories like these always seem to lead to people flaming each other trying to dispute the others claims, tests and results.

Every carrier has their good areas and bad areas. You just have to choose who works best for where you plan to use it. There is no best carrier for everyone. I really hate the people that pick a carrier just for the device and then complain.

I get get good speeds lhere in Colorado Springs, CO and Knoxville, TN however there are places like San Diego, CA and a few others in CA that I was getting bad speeds. I belileve Verizon was a bit better in CA.

But even in a test like this ATT still has a long way to go to correct their network issues.

I agree 100%. I use my phone to do what it does, and I use it where I need it and I have no problems. Most of the places I use it have the highest reception I can get, and the lowest I ever really get is about 3/5 of the reception.

Go AT&T!