During the research phase of your 4G smartphone purchase, it’s important to consider each cell phone carrier’s 4G coverage map. This will become increasingly important as 4G becomes the primary mobile phone data connection type. Right now there are 4 big contenders in the 4G coverage map arena. These are AT&T, T-mobile, Sprint and Verizon. To understand the pros and cons of these provider, we’ll need to dig into each one.
Before we get to far into the discussion, just a big disclaimer. All the carriers use the terms 4G, LTE, HSPA, HSDPA, HSPA+, 4G LTE, and Wimax to mean very similar things. The goal of this post is to help everyone understand what each carrier’s 4G coverage maps looks like and what the actual speeds are. Because really, isn’t that the goal – “How fast is it and where can and can’t I get that speed”.
AT&T’s 4G Coverage Map
On the bottom of the page you’ll notice the legend about what all the colors mean. Let’s break down what AT&T is saying these speeds actually are:
4G (Dark Blue) – Upload 1Mbps and Download – 6 Mbps
4G LTE (Gold Star) – Upload – 11Mbps and Download – 28Mbps
When looking at this, please note that AT&T stated these speeds would drop based on number of users sharing a cell tower and what they were doing on their phones. So, these are speeds of one person on the tower only.
One knock that a lot of people have had against AT&T is the lack of coverage. They have acknowledged this and are actively working on improving their 4G coverage to stay competitive. AT&T has also recently has upgraded to HSPA+ for their mobile backbone which gives increased speeds and allows for 4G capabilities.
In the summer of 2011 also upgraded a number of markets to 4G LTE. The goal is to reach 70 million Americans in 15 different markets. AT&T claims to have the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network. Based on the 4G coverage map above, I would also venture to say they have quite a bit of coverage as well.
Verizon’s 4G Coverage Map
Verizon’s version of 4G utilizes the Verizon LTE network. This rapidly expanding 4G network currently covers more than 140 markets in the United States with plans to expand quickly. The long term goal for Verizon’s 4G coverage map is cover all their current 3G locations with 4G by the end of 2013.
Verizon 4G LTE – Upload – 5Mpbs and Download 10Mbps
Sprint’s 4G Coverage Map
Sprint’s 4G coverage map is rather impressive considering their long history of falling behind the bigger carriers like AT&T and Verizon. One complaint I do see a lot is the lack of Sprint coverage outside of the major highways and roads. Rural coverage for Sprint does need some improvement. That being said, Sprint is comitted to improving their 4G coverage map and providing the best mobile data experience possible to their customers.
Sprint’s 4G Speed – Upload - 3Mpbs and Download 3-6 Mbps
When you compare the major carriers, it’s pretty clear that right now Verizon 4G LTE coverage map is dominating the market. This however will change as carriers like AT&T continue to improve their footprint. One bottleneck that all 4G companies will have is their backbone for this increase data. All information currently available is based on an empty 4G network with no user data. Just image how these quoted speeds will decrease when there are thousands of users uploading videos, downloading files, streaming media and much more all at the same time. It won’t matter then who has the better 4G coverage map, it will all depend on who has the biggest backbone to support all the data.
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