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Nationwide 4G Showdown

Which network offers the fastest speeds in America? The results are in.


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by LAPTOP Staff on August 8, 2011

4G. You hear the term thrown around all the time, but what does it really mean? It's supposed to mean blazing-fast data, the kind that will let you download an app in the blink of an eye, upload that big presentation in seconds instead of minutes, and stream Netflix on the go without any stuttering. Still, there's a lot of confusion out there. And for good reason.

Between all of the competing technologies (Mobile WiMax, HSPA+, and LTE) and lofty speed claims by the carriers, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. That's why we decided to extensively test the four major carriers in five cities nationwide--using phones, USB modems, and mobile hotspots--to tell you which networks truly deliver on the 4G promise.

How We Tested

We conducted 4G testing in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Orlando, and San Francisco. In three locations within each city, every product was tested to find out how quickly it loaded websites, and how fast it uploaded and downloaded files (using both real-world and synthetic tests). In each location, all tests for each carrier were performed during one sitting.

Website load times were measured by averaging the time it took for CNN.com, ESPN.com, Laptopmag.com, and NYTimes.com took to load in Chrome browser on the laptop. For the smartphones, we disabled flash and gathered load times for Consumerist.com, HuffingtonPost.com, Laptopmag.com, and Time.com/time.

We used Speedtest.net for our synthetic upload and download tests. We averaged 10 test results for each device in each location. To get real-world benchmarks, we downloaded a 155MB file (OpenOffice.org) from our FTP server. We also uploaded a 6.7MB Handbrake file to the same FTP. If it took more than 7 minutes to perform either of these tasks, it was counted as a failed attempt.

All this data was compiled to create averages for each carrier in each city, and each device for each carrier.

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