The Fastest Mobile Networks 2011
In a 21-city test across the United States, we found that Verizon's new 4G LTE network is much faster than other mobile Web options, with speeds that often exceed home Internet connections.
T-Mobile was the second-fastest network nationwide, and it's continuing to upgrade its speeds all the time. The carrier's existing HSPA+ 21 network is being replaced by HSPA+ 42, which could provide LTE-like speeds. (See our review of the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 4G Laptop Stick for a first look at HSPA+ 42). Of course, all of this could come to an end if AT&T buys T-Mobile, as the larger company has pledged to shut down T-Mobile's network to use the airwaves for LTE.
AT&T's nationwide 3G network still offers the best balance of speed and performance outside major cities, but the giant carrier is struggling in big cities against Verizon's LTE network and T-Mobile's nimble HSPA+ technology. AT&T is moving to HSPA+ 21 right now and plans to introduce an LTE network this summer, so we could see the carrier's position recover in 2012.
Sprint is in the toughest position in our tests. The carrier is struggling with speed and consistency, and the partner it relies on for its WiMAX network, Clearwire, has perpetual financial problems. But Sprint has one huge advantage: the nation's only truly unlimited 4G plan, making it the only network that you can use to replace a home Internet connection.
Cricket is a low-cost carrier available in 12 of our 21 cities. While its 3G network is comparatively slow, it currently charges $55 per month for unlimited smartphone usage, which is considerably less than the major players. It also covers many smaller cities. Cricket will be introducing an LTE network next year.
MetroPCS, like Verizon Wireless, offers LTE. But the small carrier, available in 11 of our 21 cities, is doing something very different with its 4G; rather than offering spectacular speeds, it's going for merely decent speeds at very low rates. The carrier's average speed is like a very good 3G network, but unlimited talk, text and Internet access costs just $60 a month—or about half of what Verizon charges.