Thursday, January 27, 2011

AT&T vs. Verizon - A Mobile Broadband Speed Test

Okay, so not a very scientific one, but here goes.

I use a Motorola Droid all day, every day for business and personal. I get great coverage on the Verizon network and rarely have a call dropped or a data issue.

I am trying an iPad at the office. We are equipping two senior executives with them, and I am trying out the service before hand. I activated the 3G service on it yesterday and thought it was high time for a mobile broadband smack down!

I loaded the same application on both devices, Speedtest.Net speed checker. Available from both AT&T and Android market places. The also have a website version.

I ran 3 tests for 2 consecutive days, and averaged the 6 tests.
I used two different times of the day.
I used the same server in Washington DC for the test (suggested by the application).
All tests conducted from Chester, Va (10 miles south of Richmond, Va).

Motorola Droid on Verizon (rev "a" EVDO):
  • Ping was always less than 200 ms.
  • Download speeds varied widely, from 536 kbps to 1,336 kbps.
  • Download speed average was 832 kbps.
  • Upload also varied widely, from 485 kbps to 795kbps.

Apple iPad on AT&T 3G:
  • Ping was always over a half second, which I found odd.
  • Download speeds also varied, from 1,012 kbps to 1,580 kbps.
  • Download speed average was 1,310 kbps.
  • Upload speed always registered very low, like 100kbps.

This admittedly unscientific comparison confirms what I have suspected for some time. If you have a strong AT&T signal, the broadband is indeed somewhat faster. There are many other factors to consider in the overall speed experience:
  • Speed of device. The iPad has a faster processor than the Droid, and appears to be snappier.
  • Background processing. I have several things running in background all the time, and they can compete for foreground apps for resources. No such problem on the iPhone/iPad.
  • Internet speed. The internet can at any given time make an app feel slow. Websites get overloaded and lag as well.
  • Poorly Designed Applications. Not that programmers would ever be LAZY but it does take effort to construct durable and responsive network based applications.
  • Verizon is more aggressive with the 4th gen mobile broadband offering (LTE) and AT&T. The nextgen mobile broadband is where the real speed will be found.
With all this to consider, I would not make a 2 year commit decision based on one aspect of the speed equation. I prefer reliable and ubiquitous network coverage and handset variety, and will be sticking with Verizon.

Barry Condrey
CIO Chesterfield County, VA

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