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4G Networks Tested: WiMAX vs. HSPA+

Intro The Numbers Equipment Summary Comments  46  

Jun 4, 2010, 11:01 AM   by Rich Brome

A look at 4G and "4G speed" networks currently being deployed in the US; how Sprint's WiMAX technology compares to T-Mobile's HSPA+ technology.

Today, America's first 4G phone goes on sale. We just published our
in-depth review of the HTC EVO 4G
, but the other half of the story is the 4G network on which it runs. How does Sprint's shiny new 4G network - which uses WiMAX technology - actually perform?

Also making waves these days is T-Mobile's claim that its new HSPA+ network offers "4G speeds". How accurate is that statement, really?

We set out to answer those questions by conducting extensive testing in Philadelphia, one of the few areas where both technologies are commercially deployed. 4G means a lot of different things for the companies involved, but for consumers, it's basically about data speed; how fast can you load full web sites on your phone or watch Hulu on your laptop? We wanted to see how these fancy new networks stack up where it counts. What we found may surprise you.

Is Sprint's 4G network "up to ten times faster" than 3G, as Sprint claims? Eh... based on our tests, we'd say that's misleading. But Sprint's 4G network does work, and it is fast.

Does T-Mobile's HSPA+ network offer "4G speeds". Yes, absolutely. In fact, despite being an upgrade to existing "3G" technology, we found that T-Mobile's HSPA+ network was often slightly faster than Sprint's "4G" network. By some measures, it's much faster.

That's the problem with the term "4G". There's some confusion about what it means.

To the engineers that create these technologies and decide the standards - like the fine folks at the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) - a technology is only "4G" if it meets a list of criteria. The ITU says "4G" should offer speeds of at least 100 Mbps. No current technology comes close to meeting that requirement, so according to the ITU, what Sprint's offering - and even the LTE technology Verizon is working on - are not true 4G.

But try telling that to Sprint and Verizon, whose marketing departments have clearly decided that their big new networks are "4G". It's not purely marketing spin, though; there is some sense to it. Sprint and Verizon are building these 4G networks from scratch, not upgrading their 3G networks. That's because Sprint's WiMAX - and Verizon's LTE - are all-new technologies that have very little in common with 3G. These new technologies are more modern and more data-centric. Because it's a whole new generation of technology, more advanced than the existing 3G (3rd-generation) technology, it makes sense to call it 4th generation, or 4G.

T-Mobile's story is different. They're taking the existing WCDMA/HSDPA 3G network and upgrading it to HSPA+ technology. It's still technically considered 3G technology by most, but on the most important spec - data speed - it's just as fast as the other networks' 4G, making it very much a viable competitor, regardless of what "G" it is.

In this article, we didn't set out to compare all carriers' data networks head-to-head. Rather, we're focusing only on the new technologies being offered by the two carriers advertising 4G or 4G-like speed. For a comprehensive look at all carriers' 3G networks, PC Magazine just published a good comparison.

About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.



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Jun 4, 2010, 1:31 PM

Dumb conclusions

By including location F, the overall average was greatly skewed. PS admits there was little 4G coverage in the burbs. The 4G signal there appeared almost non-existent, and for some reason the HSPA was the strongest. Drop location F from the test and WiMax ends up 50% faster on download, although still much slower on upload.
We thought it was very important to have different kinds of locations, including the 'burbs. If anything, we would have liked to include more locations outside of downtown. People need to use 4G not just in city centers, but other places, as well. At ...
Check out this PC World article giving data from five cities. It pretty much corroborates the data that was given in this PhoneScoop article.

table of data:
http://www.pcworld.com/zoom?id=198054&page=1&zoomIdx=1 »

full article:
http://www.pcworl »...

Jun 4, 2010, 6:00 PM

Told you.

I've been using Xtreme Labs Speedtest measuring my iPhone's performance throughout the country on AT&T's network. I've also been using a few web sites to monitor the speed of Sprint's 3G Network.

Also of note:
Sprint's 3G Network is about 1/3rd of the speed of AT&T's. My average on Sprint is 700kbps, my average on AT&T is 2058 kbps. Very rarely do I even break 900kbps on Sprint.

Sprint's WiMax Network isn't significantly faster than T-Mobile and AT&T's 3G Network. - Right now with decent signal from AT&T on the slower 3.2mbps network I beat 4 of the WiMax scores on Sprint's network.

WiMax coverage isn't nearly as solid as HSDPA - Just because an area is "covered" doesn't mean you get a usable signal...
My speed tests for Sprint's 3G Network were done with my Palm Pre using http://testmyiphone.com/ . Go on all you want about them using different antennae and different sources yada yada.
"Told you". What are you, 10?? One person's results are statistically irrelevant, especially when presented with such obvious bias. Wait until we get some input from thousands of new EVO users, and then well see how 4G stacks up to 3G
I agree with your sentiments but unfortunately your voices is falling on deaf ears. it seems a lot of people on this site don't care about facts because they are blinded by their employers. There is a reason the other carriers can't/don't go after AT&...
iDont Care

Jun 4, 2010, 12:20 PM

Very insightful Rich

Well done. Now hopefully we can put some of this bickering to rest.
Thanks! 🙂

Jun 4, 2010, 11:39 AM

great article!

btw, the hspa+ router video is set to private ☚ī¸
Yep very good read! Sprint FAIL i kid i kid đŸ¤Ŗ T-Mobile for the WIN!
Whoops! 🤭 Thanks!

Agreed. Awesome article. Very informative.

Jun 4, 2010, 9:09 PM

lol--WiMax! WiMax! WiMax...

...that's all you ever hear from the Sprint boys.

Gotta love a nice plate of crow.

Jun 4, 2010, 12:08 PM

The big 4

Wow thats good stuff to know.

But I think it fail to note whats the possibilities of 4G... 😕

If I'm not mistaken 4G is cheaper to build upon to make faster, so for every X amount of money you put in to infrastructure with 4G, you will get X amount increase in speed. The 4G is cheaper to build upon to make faster then 3G or something like that.

But also how come Phone Scoop didn't have AT&T on there?
at&t doesn't have an hspa+ network yet, they are only planning to have a 14.4mpbs network compared to t-mobile's 21mpbs, and at&t is not claiming '4G speeds' like t-mobile.
Well, it's more that 4G is simply new technology at the beginning of its lifecycle, while 3G techs are near the end of their lifecycle.

3G started out with technology like WCDMA that only achieved 384 kbps, then it evolved through various upgrades ...
I just got my Evo, and 4g is blazing fast on this thing. The phone is amazing, so far 4g network in Kansas City is too. I'm in heaven!

Jun 4, 2010, 2:49 PM

real world experience in NYC with T-Mobile

3.5G: 2-3Mbps
3.75G: up to 9Mbps

latency is around 100-150ms (3.75 is lower).
You're getting 9Mbps? What about upload?

Are you using a rocketstick or a phone to test this?
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