CES 2013 LTE Throughput Face-Off - AT&T versus Verizon Wirelessby Brian Klug on January 13, 2013 3:34 AM EST
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- Trade Shows
- CES 2013
Last year I ran a series of speedtests on both AT&T and Verizon Wireless LTE during CES, the results of which were pretty interesting. My friends continue to poke fun at how obsessive I am with running speed tests, and this year I decided to do the same experiment during CES 2013 by carrying around an iPhone 5 on AT&T LTE and HTC Droid DNA on Verizon Wireless LTE and running speedtests at the same time and place periodically on the two handsets side by side.
The places I tested are pretty much indicative of your average tech journalist's in Las Vegas for CES — I ran a few in my hotel (LVH), inside and throughout the LVCC North and South halls' show floors and concourses, the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Palms, and a smattering of the Las Vegas Strip itself. Most of the major hotels have DASes inside them (Distributed Antenna System or sometimes Digital Antenna System). I know for a fact that at least the Palms and Venetian have DASes, as does the strip itself. Inside the LVCC there are multiple DASes, with at least three different systems visible that I managed to spy.
Spotting these indoor systems is almost always a challenge, as they're camouflaged intentionally to both dissuade vandalism or theft, and also for aesthetic reasons. Even if you know what you're looking for they're at best difficult to spot or out of sight and sometimes completely camouflaged. That said, I snapped photos of the ones I was pretty confident were in fact DAS antennas and put them in a gallery.
An example set of DAS antennas in LVCC North Hall
So how did AT&T and Verizon fare at CES 2013? First, I should note that both Verizon and AT&T were best I can tell only using their 700 MHz spectrum assets, that means band 13 for VZW and band 17 on AT&T with 10 MHz of bandwidth. I didn't see Band 4 on the iPhone 5, and the DNA (and all new HTC devices) lacked Field Test or similar engineering menus that would enable me to check, but it lacks band 4 anyways.
I ran 100 speedtests on both devices at the same places during my day (and night) at and around the show. Both were to the Switch Communications server in Las Vegas, for consistency of host. I then used my same script to create some histograms of the results, and stats.
AT&T LTE ResultsDownstream Stats (Mbps)Avg: 16.677; Max: 44.928; Min: 0.632, StDev: 11.323Upstream Stats (Mbps)Avg: 4.370; Max: 16.015; Min: 0.081, StDev: 3.696Latency Stats (ms)Avg: 174.95; Max: 256; Min: 144, StDev: 24.2187Number of Tests Run: 100
Verizon Wireless LTE ResultsDownstream Stats (Mbps)Avg: 10.585; Max: 39.65; Min: 0.702, StDev: 7.854Upstream Stats (Mbps)Avg: 4.680; Max: 11.402; Min: 0.041, StDev: 3.165Latency Stats (ms)Avg: 130.13; Max: 192; Min: 99, StDev: 17.153Number of Tests Run: 100
When it comes to downstream throughput, it seems as though AT&T edged out Verizon Wireless for CES 2013, with AT&T bringing in an average of 16.7 Mbps compared to Verizon's 10.6 Mbps. On upstream, AT&T hits 4.4 Mbps, Verizon hit a slightly higher 4.7 Mbps. Latency is a bit more interesting, with Verizon having lower average latency at 130.1 ms, and AT&T coming in at 175 ms, but I suspect this is more a story about the different routing that each takes both through the ePC (Evolved Packet Core) and onto the internet and then test server. Both operators did pretty well during the show, all things considered. Upstream took a huge beating and varied wildly depending on how close you were to a base station and how many people there were around you, but tweeting, checking emails, and downloading the latest schedule at least worked.
I will say that although AT&T had better downstream throughput at the end of the day, on the whole Verizon's coverage profile continues to be much better. In the Mandalay Bay I lost AT&T connectivity quite a bit and suspect the building either doesn't have a DAS or AT&T isn't hooked into it, whereas Verizon was solid. Inside the LVCC both operators understandably had great coverage.
I have to hand it to both major operators for keeping their LTE networks up at the show floor. I remember before Verizon or AT&T deployed LTE having limited to no connectivity in Las Vegas, much less inside LVCC during CES, and this seems to now largely be a thing of the past.
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djsvetljo - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkThank you for your reply. With that said, Verizon's upgrade to LTE (from EVDO) is trully justified , but I can not say the same for ATT. Is T-Mobile deploying LTE or LTEBAdvanced this year?
name99 - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkIt is not reasonable to say that ATT's upgrade was unjustified.
At the business level, you have no idea of the costs involved, and the value of that extra 16% performance boost.
At the tech level, LTE is the future. Sticking with HSPA+ saves money today, but it's just going to keep you locked in an obsolete path. It won't hurt immediately, but over time you'll lag more and more as the chip vendors put their A-team on improving their LTE capabilities, while it is the B-team that maintain the HSPA+ cells and give them minor tweaks.
T-Mobile is desperate, we all know that. They delayed their LTE deployment because they don't have the cash flow, not on sound business/technical grounds.
For the poor part of the rest of the world, the situation is more nuanced. LTE requires more expensive chips which use more power (so needs more expensive batteries), it requires better RF engineering, it requires more infrastructure in the base station, etc. There's a reason WCDMA was the implementation choice 12 years or so ago, even though everyone knew about OFDM and its advantages.
So if you're a poor country, it's probably a better tradeoff, for now, to implement HSPA, and allow your citizens to use cheap phones. In ten years or so LTE will be way cheaper, and you can upgrade, buying old equipment from the US which has moved on to LTE Advanced++.
djsvetljo - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkWell, what i was thinking is that it is better to stick with 16% slower network for another 2-3 years and then upgrade to LTE Adv, instead of what they are doing now and upgrading to LTE Advanced in 6-7 years.
Of course, that is my opinion and I don't know anything about cost and profit, but from consumers point, paying premium for LTE does not make any sense today - the gain you get is not enough.
Any major upgrade in the past was bringing massive increase in speed - GPRS to EDGE - ~5-6 times, EDGE to WCDMA - almost 10 times and so on.
Rick83 - Monday, January 14, 2013 - linkThere's also the advantage, that LTE is a true packet switch IP network, where UMTS and its derivates where mixed networks, with some components still being circuit switched.
This should also help with latency.
Real world latency should be around 30% of most UMTS derivates - which the numbers reflect. Getting below 300 ms in crowded spectrum with HSPA can be difficult.
Zink - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkThere is something to be said about the timeliness of mobile reviews. The big sites put up reviews a few days after the hardware comes out which leaves little time for measuring actual data, while you guys go to the opposite extreme and haven't posted anything for two months after Jason posted a hands on article. Even three weeks often seems like a long wait. I complain not because I want to read the DNA review, but because I hope month long review periods don’t become a permanent part of Anandtech. Any content that gets posted is awesome but I think much of the value of the reviews is lost every week it get pushed back.
Taristin - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkHow much of this comparison can be linked to individual phone performance? (Meaning, you didn't compare an AT&T iPhone to a VZW iPhone, but to a different device entirely.) Are they actually comparable, or could the different chipsets in both lead to different performance outcomes?
Brian Klug - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkSo both are actually the same modem inside - MDM9615, which is UE Category 3. There are of course differences in filters / PAs / passive losses, but on the whole these two handsets are a pretty close comparison. I'd get two iPhones or compare with a One X+ but I forgot my One X+ at home.
Taristin - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkOk! Didnt know the specifics, which is why I asked!
T2k - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link...here in NYC (my tests easily run up to 15/5 anywhere in the city, even during busy weekday hours.)
Brian Klug - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - linkOf course, but there's a huge difference between NYC and CES... :)