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Exclusive: Testing shows AT&T 3G network outperforming VZW

AT&Tís mobile data network problems compared to Verizonís are mainly problems of perception, according to independent testing firm Root Wireless. On most critical performance metrics, AT&Tís 3G networks comes out on top, they say

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Updated Mon., Dec. 7: See the data behind the story: TelephonyOnline has now posted the detailed, market-by-market data from Root Wireless 3G network tests.

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AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wirelessí (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) legal battle may be over, but the war over their respective network coverage rages with the two companies attacking each otherís 3G coverage, speed and capabilities. But an independent examination of the real performance of the two providersí 3G networks shows that while Verizonís map may lack the huge gaps of AT&Tís, its claims of a superior mobile data network may be overblown.

Root Wireless, a start-up network performance monitoring company, mapped out the network conditions of AT&T and VZWís network in 7 major markets where both operators offer 3G services and found that AT&Tís high-speed packet access network (HSPA) consistently beat VZWís EV-DO network in a bevy of different metrics, ranging from download speeds to optimal signal strength. Verizon Wireless has attacked AT&T primarily on its nationwide coverage, which is focused primarily in the major metropolitan areas, but within those metropolitan areas the tables are turned, Rootís metrics show. While AT&T still has weak spots in its urban footprint, they are no more pronounced than in Verizonís network, and when extrapolated across the entire market footprint AT&Tís fairs far better, producing far fewer peaks and valleys in network capacity and much greater data speeds, said Ron Dicklin, Root Wireless chief technology officer.

Dicklin said he believes AT&T is getting a bad rap, resulting from Verizonís very effective ad campaign and the high expectations of iPhone users Ė rather than any inherent flaw in its networks. ďAT&T has a much more stable higher-speed average than Verizon,Ē Dicklin said. ďIn general youíre going to get a much more balanced experience with AT&T than you would with Verizon in areas where they both have 3G.Ē

Root tested VZW and AT&Tís networks in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles-Orange County, New York, San Francisco, Seattle-Tacoma and Washington, DC. According to its data, AT&Tís average download speed ranged from 246 kb/s to 428 kb/s across the seven markets, while VZWís average speeds ranged from 195 kb/s to 259 kb/s, validating AT&Tís claim of having the nationís fastest 3G network. Verizonís uplink-optimized EV-DO revision A network, however, beat out AT&T in upload speeds in most of those markets, though not by much. Average uplink bandwidth for both operators ranged from 94 kb/s to 138 kb/s. In general the chance for a data connection failure was low for both operators, never exceeding 3%, but AT&T managed to best or match Verizon in all seven markets. Surprisingly, Sprint (NYSE:S) had the highest connection failure rate, ranging from 11% to 15%, calling into question Sprintís ďmost reliable networkĒ claims.

Rootís study also found that AT&T had far more extensive coverage in those 7 markets. Its testing was able to get at least three-quarter of full strength connections throughout 71% of AT&Tís network in New York compared to 37% of Verizonís. Even in AT&Tís worst performing market, San Francisco, Root found 75% signal strength in 33% of AT&Tís network compared to 30% in Verizonís.

By virtue of CDMAís easier software migration path from 2G to 3G, Verizon has added EV-DO carriers to almost the entirety of its network, and in metropolitan areas 100% of its cell sites support at least one 3G channel. Meanwhile, AT&T had to build an overlay network with new and more expensive infrastructure. AT&T hasnít completed its HSPA build in all marketsóit estimates 75% of the US population is now coveredówhich explains the big gaps in its coverage map, and in markets where it doesnít offer 3G it hasnít installed a 3G base station in every site it offers 2G. The differences in their deployments imply that Verizon would have much more ubiquitous and consistent 3G coverage than AT&T, but as far as actual real-world network coverage goes, thatís not the case, Dicklin said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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