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AT&T clocks best overall speeds with 3G/4G combo

Leah Yamshon,Mark Sullivan | May 27, 2013
When your cool new LTE phone loses touch with your LTE network, the 3G radio inside the phone will immediately connect to the older 3G network for your data service. But 3G is slower, so the downshift needs to be a smooth one—one that doesn't yank you down to a speed so slow, you can't continue what you're doing.

"[We're] launching 4G LTE on top of our leading 4G HSPA+ network, which means our customers' experience will greatly improve," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray told TechHive. "Plus, they won't leave an LTE coverage area and wonder where their 4G speed went, as happens on some competitive networks."

In our 3G cost analysis, we found larger price gaps between carriers. T-Mobile offered the best price per megabit of throughput when we compared iPhone 4S speeds and plan prices across our four networks, at $22.28 per second of throughput. That's roughly $7 less than our 3G runner-up, AT&T.

But the gap between T-Mobile and Sprint, which has the priciest speed, is astounding: Sprint's speeds result in a cost of $157.04, because you're paying more money for less throughput speed (Sprint's 3G download speed average is only 0.40 mbps).

Comparison methodology
For each carrier in our comparison, we selected the most cost-effective service plans that offered unlimited phone, texts, and at least 4GB of data per month.

For AT&T, that meant Mobile Share (surprisingly, it is cheaper for a single-device user to sign up for a Mobile Share plan with 6GB of data per month than to sign up for an individual plan with 5GB of data per month). For Sprint, that meant Simply Everything; for Verizon, Share Everything; and for T-Mobile, Simple Choice.

Then we combined the average upload and download speeds that we recorded with our two smartphones on each carrier. For the iPhone 4S, that meant combining the download and upload speeds for just the 3G network. For the Galaxy Note II, that meant looking at 3G and 4G throughputs, since the phones fall back to 3G speeds when they can't access a 4G signal. Finally, we divided the monthly cost of each phone by the combined throughput per second to figure out the cost per second of throughput.


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