Verizon vs. Sprint vs. AT&T

By  |  Monday, June 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

PC World LogoSprint claims to have “America’s most dependable 3G network.” Verizon says it has “America’s largest and most reliable wireless network.” AT&T says it has “the nation’s fastest 3G network.” With wireless, in other words, everybody’s a winner–if you ask the carriers themselves.

Which is why I admire what Mark Sullivan and my other PC World pals did: compare the three carries for upload speed, download speed, and reliability in thirteen cities. PCW conducted this ambitious real-world experiment in partnership with Novarum, using  Ixia’s IxChariot tool. As Mark says in his story, the results are only a snapshot of how the networks did on a given day, in the particular locations in the specific cities that PCW and Novarum visited. But they’re interesting nonetheless. And they tend to jibe with some of the anecdotal impressions that folks have about the three carriers:

–The performance varied a lot from city to city.

–Out of the 13 cities, Verizon got the highest reliability rating in seven and Sprint got the highest one in six. AT&T didn’t score highest in reliability in any cities, and was often far behind its two competitors.

–Verizon got the highest download score in seven cities; Sprint scored highest in four; AT&T in two.

–AT&T had the highest upload score in ten cities; Sprint was highest in two; Verizon in only one.

The most notable result is AT&T’s lackluster download score. AT&T told PCW that it stands by its claim of being the nation’s fastest 3G provider, based on results from two independent firms and tests involving a million road miles and a million data sessions. I don’t dispute its stance. But PCW’s experiment is a useful reminder that claims about “America” or “the nation” may or may not reflect what you get in your own hometown. And it might help to explain why AT&T is the only one of the big three carriers who never talks about dependability or reliability in its ads.


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51 Comments For This Post

  1. jltnol Says:

    They all SUCK!

    Given the very limited scope of your test, it'd be hard to really make any claims about any of the carriers. I don't for a second believe ATT's claim about independent testing…. that's easily rigged when your looking for high scores. Who did the test, and who owns the company, and what is their financial interest in ATT. Likewise, what is ATT's financial interest in the testing company? Too much not disclosed to be a true test.

    The fact that there was some variance is of no surprise. I get great cell reception in my home…. most of the time. Other times, it's non-existent.

    Until we get ONE network that EVERYONE uses, and is robust enough to handle ALL the traffic at reasonable and dependable speeds, I'm going to stick my my statement:

    They all Suck!

  2. graham Says:

    buddy you must not know how economics work. first off, one network would allow that one network to charge as high as they want because there would be absolutly no competition. they form a monopoly on that industry. with EVERYONE using that one network speeds would slow WAYdown because of ll the traffick. think about it. the 181.4 million people that live in the US using the same service, the network would crash regularly. so get over the fact that they have their strengths and weaknesses and choose whichever one you want.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    Well, it’s not my test–it’s PC World’s, and they acknowledge that it’s not comprehensive or definitive. But it’s a LOT more ambitious than most independent reporting on this topic–and certainly far more enterprising than declaring that they all suck…


  4. Shawn Roberts Says:

    I give Verizon a -0-; they are not in my town, Oklahoma City, with a metro area population of over 1 million!

  5. Dave Zatz Says:

    AT&T’s claim of America amuses me… I had zero service in Wyoming on two work trips this year and learned you can’t even purchase an iPhone in that state. Fewer bars in more places. However, the iPhone keeps me on their network. Perhaps one day they’ll rise to Apple’s high standard of quality.

  6. Steve W Says:

    AT&T would tell you that “America” chose free enterprise and competition over regulated monopoly and universal service; and the folks in Wyoming should be happy with the outcome.

  7. DaveZatz Says:

    Yes, but I don’t live in Wyoming. And I do support free enterprise (not questionable advertising claims). So as a business traveler I’ve replaced AT&T with Sprint for better prices, better coverage, and access to my corporate VPNs. Lastly, I do agree the folks in Wyoming are probably happy with the outcome – they have very solid Verizon coverage.

  8. Kayza Kleinman Says:

    We’ve been stuck to ATT for a very simple reason – it’s the only network with coverage in our office. Because some of us are so mobile, some people will try us first (and sometime ONLY) on the cell phone, which means that our cell phones need to work in the office. Besides, they are our backup plan for a true telephone emergency (we’ve had both power and telco lines coming into the building cut.)

    Verizon has been promising improvement “real soon”. In fact, one Verizon dealer told me that his contacts had told him to expect improvement “in a few weeks, probably” – over a year ago. He was honest enough to tell me that this was not the official word, and not to depend on it.

    If I ever went with Verizon (if they ever get coverage to our area) I would only go through this guy, because he is the only Verizon person I have ever been able to get straight and consistent answers from.

  9. riflessioniquotidiane Says:

    nice post and very good discussion!

  10. mike Says:

    I have Sprint, in my area (east NJ by NYC) coverage is great and the 3G averages 750k-1.5Mbps( on my data card. Blows AT&T’s 400-600kbps(I have AT&T HTC Tilt for my work phone) out of the water. I also roam on Verizon for free, so you get the best all inclusive pricing and access to the largest network. As of now, as a service Sprint is the best. The phone selection isnt all that great but they just got the Pre and theyre getting the BB Tour soon. So soon theyll pick up some better handsets im sure.
    But yes Verizon is the biggest and Sprint has the best pricing for smart phones. Combine the free roam and you got a winner.

    AT&T, well seems that the iPhone is all they got going for them. And nicer handsets… Damn GSM!

  11. Mark Says:

    Just had AT&T and Sprint simultaneously for one month in Colorado. I was flirting with AT&T because of the iPhone, which is the best device I have ever used. I didn’t say best ‘phone’ because I would hardly call it that. I had more dropped calls in one day than I had in one year with Sprint. It was a frustrating experience because I love iPhone. 3G was spotty and that was in Denver, not rural Colorado.

    On a road trip through Colorado, I had Sprint service the majority of the time, but AT&T was in and out (mostly out).

    Doesn’t work where I live and doesn’t work on the road. What was I to do? Returned the phone yesterday.

  12. Terry Says:

    Well, I have owned quality cell phones from all three carriers in Kentucky (probably not the best covered area for t any network) and there is NO comparison! Out of the three carriers Verizon is the worst! AT&T is the best and Sprint is not too bad at second. If you also rate their customer service I would also say that AT&T is hands down the best. I Would however say that Verizon’s Blackberry tech. support is awesome and would rate their overall customer service second to AT&T. I think it’s according to where you’re at and what type of device you are using as well. I have always used Blackberry devices and they have better reception than you’re basic phone. In closing….overall I will give you my honest to goodness point rating for each carrier (In my area) overall…and that includes everything from coverage, to customer service.
    AT&T– 7.5 out of 10.
    Sprint- 6.5 out of 10. and
    Verizon-6.0 out of 10.

  13. Ryan Kidd Says:

    My wife and I have always been verizon users in central ohio I recently went with sprint because I use 5000+ minutes a month and of course bill gates couldn’t afford to pay that bill with verizon. I got the tour and I love the phone. My wife then had to have one she dosent talk as much as me so she stayed with verizon. I’ve done side by side tests with internet speeds and they are the same. But I was with verizon for 2 years and can’t remember dropping one call. With sprint in two months I’ve dropped probably 100 calls. Even in my house in the big city. So sprint great prices great internet. Verizon great big prices great everything its either quality or quanity.

  14. ryan kidd Says:

    Why wasn’t my last post posted I took the time to write a review and you didn’t post it?

  15. malaika Says:

    i have sprint i love it verizon is not good at all i do not like it atat is better them verizon and am right or not so bye and sprint the best

  16. Syphon R Says:

    I had nextel for over 7 years I had AT&T and Verizon along the way too. I must say that nextel had very little problems but when sprint bought them out and i switched to the sprint service and right away saw a big differance, I had much less droped calls and faster internet. when i had verizon it was to expensive and really didnt see much of a diffrance in service to nextel same thing with AT&T. I really like the service with sprint and the prices are amazing when comparing to verizon.

  17. Lissy Says:

    Sprint Rocks

  18. Roger Says:

    I live in a small town in Waterloo, Iowa. I have been with all three carriers. Verizon was great in everything. Only problem and the reason I left was their prices. Got a blackberry with AT&T and discovered they had lied to me about 3G coverage. returned their phone within the 30-day trial period. Now I have Sprint. I am still amazed at how low the prices at Sprint are, compared to Verizon and AT&T. The unlimited any mobile anytime with unlimited data is simply the best plan you can have for a smart phone and I think it’s too good and hope they don’t change it. The only problem I hae is coverage in my apartment but this is not specific to Sprint as I had the same problem with the other carriers even though it was less severe with Verizon. So the bottom line for me is:

    -VERIZON: best coverage, worst prices, good phones
    -SPRINT: good coverage, best prices, no good phones
    -AT&T: worst coverage, worst prices, best phones

  19. Marcus Says:

    ATT is overpriced and overrated. If you need mobile services and the price/service issue is important then Sprint is the way to go.

    I do not see a phone company as a fashion accessory, but rather a tool to accomplish my tasks. Clearly, the one that offers the best value is the one that I use, hence my choice of Sprint. Oh, and I have used Verizon and ATT as well. Bottom line, Sprint offers the most in terms of price/performance.

  20. emile Says:

    sprint best prices and internet hands down and good phones (esp pre)

  21. Ericka Says:

    I’ve had sprint and verizon and live in a really small town in WI my friend has AT&T she rarely has coverage this is my review… Sprint- 9.5 of 10 great coverage prices phones and costumer service. Verizon- 7 out of 10 bad coverage good phones bad prices good costumer service AT&T- 5 out of 10 good phones bad prices worst coverage and good costumer service hope i helped!

  22. Nick Says:

    had the Sprint For over 5 years, customer service is nice if I did not like the charges or any billing problems they took care of it.
    Now when on the road and when traveling their reseption is from 1-10 is 8. In building and offices sucks all the way. Internet speed is fast (if you have reception of course) Had My Tych 3G for 14 days with T-mobile reseption is the same as sprint internet is much slower.
    Did not have Verizen I think it would have better reception in Buildings but you will pay for it not cheap.
    Only one good phone that Verizon released is Droid.

  23. Carlos Says:

    Anybody on Criket? Anyone? lol

  24. Kevin Says:

    I’ve had all three services and by far att has the sexiest phone with IPhone. With all the apps and things you can do with it, it trumps sprint and verizon.Verizon will penny pinch you to death in w/ fees for everything and sprint was decent but not even close to the level the att is at. As far as coverage att works fine in every area I’ve traveled from New York to California.

  25. RavenBlades Says:

    I personally have been with all three carriers at one time or another and of the three i find that verizon has the best service all together. I have very few dropped calls (maybe 6 in a whole year) and i love the cust service. when i had sprint i lost calls all the time and service was crappy. with att well i wont go into what i think of them and there crappy service, from coverage to customer service.

    Again I think Verizon has the best service.

  26. sewer Says:


  27. Paul Says:

    Who cares……Pick your favorite carrier or the lesser of the evils and deal with it! Or, if you care that much and have the skills and intelligence to do so, then go work on improving the technology yourselves and stop complaining because someone else hasn’t fixed it for you! They all beat the heck out of smoke signals or morse code or any of the landline phones that used to be the only thing available. Everyone is just a bunch of spoiled, unappreciative brats these days because they expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter and have no idea about how good they really have it. And no, I am not 100 years old preaching to the youngsters out there. I am just someone who doesn’t have to complain about everything all the time! There is NEVER going to be a 100% consensus on who is the “best” or “most reliable” carrier. There is also NEVER going to be a “perfect” phone and carrier, free of any and all problems. Do you people not understand that is the reason that all of these companies are able to exist? Everyone has a different opinion and various reasons that “their” carrier is the best. Hence the reason that there is not just one company who offers cell phone service.

  28. Justin Says:

    Everyone truly has to admit Sprint is the best.
    Verizon is awesome but they always try to get every penny out of your pocket…

    Sprint has the Palm Pre and HTC Hero which are great phones

    Verizon only has the Motorola Droid and Droid Eris the others suck

    AT&T has the iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS which are the best phones ever

    One thing I have to say is when using my iPhone with T-Mobile (Unlocked) I never get dropped calls unlike with AT&T… I called my friend Kelly and everytime the call would drop every 10-20 minutes (He’s on AT&T with the iPhone)

  29. Waz Says:

    I have had all 3 carriers and I must say that Sprint by far as a whole is the best deal. I live in NE Tennessee in the mountains so it is a good test for any cell phone company. Verizon has nice coverage and sprint isn’t very far behind but AT&T can’t even come close in fact I would rate AT&T closer to T-Mobile. As far as phones are concerned I know Sprint for me has the best Smartphones. I use the HTC Touch Pro 2 and for me it gives me more options than the iPhone. If I was a younger person that had a lot of time to kill and also liked playing games then I would have the iPhone. But the HTC TP2 does everything I want in a phone and has a better looking screen. I do own a iPod Touch and it actually does everything better than the iPhone except make calls. I am on the Sprint everything plan and at $100.00 per month no carrier has any plan that can even come close. Also Sprint has there plan that lets you talk to any cell carrier in the entire USA for no extra charge. Verizon I think tops out at about 25 people and AT&T is 10 people, you do the math. It’s plain and simple Sprint kicks Ass on all the rest in every way when you figure coverage area, Customer Service, Phones, and the cheapest plans of all and of course 4G network in some major cities.

  30. Waz Says:

    Sorry, but I have a couple other things to say about phones. I tried the HTC Hero and the Samsung Moment on Sprint PCS and I went with the HTC Touch Pro 2. I have been using PDA’s for over 25 years and I have gotten so used to using a stylus that the new touch only phones just don’t do it for me. The Touch Pro 2 is a great touch screen that will also let my use a regular stylus and it comes with 2 stylus’s. I have rather big fingers and I couldn’t text on the Hero or the Moment. As for the full Querty slide out keyboard on the HTC TP2, it is simply the best layout of all keyboards that I have used or seen to date. The key layout mimics a computer or typewriter keyboard and there is a small amount of space between the keys and the keys are wider and also backlit for easier typing in dark situations The screen also tilts up for better viewing of video and photos I love the Android OS and hope HTC will bring out a Touch Pro 2 with android and include a magnetic stylus that will work with the new touch only screens. I wanted to get away from Windows based os but for now windows works for me and actually my HTC TP2 is almost as fast as my home based Windows Vista computer at home when using WiFi. One other important fact about the HTC TP2, I had a HTC Mogul and then the HTC Touch Pro last year and the TP2 is lighter but bigger and the battery last’s much longer. I wish HTC would have kept the toggle button on the bottom of the TP2 phone or gone with a track ball like on the Hero. Oh well I guess it’s hard to have everything you want. The really good news is because I am on the Sprint Everything plan I am considered a Premier Customer and that allows me to upgrade every year to the newest and best phones. One more thing,…………..maybe 2 or 3 more things. Sprint has NFL live and Nascar Sprint Cup Live also as well as the best GPS from Sprint Navigation powered by Telenav. Now in my car and work truck I use a Garmin Nuvi 880 with speech Recognition so I don’t need my HTC TP2 for GPS, but for someone that doesn’t have a stand alone GPS the TP2 is an awesome GPS. But I do use the GPS in my TP2 when my wife and I are on vacation and walking around and we want to find a restaurant or coach store or just anything. There are so many other GREAT things I could say about Sprint but I have to go to work.

  31. H.W.Fisher Says:

    You may say what you want but in Florida when Hurricane Charlie hit us then why is it Sprint and Verizon would not work. I was able to call anywhere on the old AT&T network was the only one working. The outhers DID NOT and my AT&T cell phone will work in stores and i dont have a special place to use it like in the middle of a parking lot to get reception. I have had AT&T for 8 years now and will not change. If it works in a Hurricane and during the hurricane then why change. When you find the forget the rest. As they dont compare as in my experances AT&T is the best.

  32. C.Y. Orion Says:

    I think that Sprint is the best hands down, they have the first and only 4G network in select cities and they are expanding it. They have the best prices by far and great customer service, also when I call Sprint and speak with one of the representatives they seem down to Earth, when I call AT&T and speak with one of their representatives it seems like Im talking to a robot reading off of a script. Ive never had Verizon however I know about their prices and they are ridiculous! And one of my co-workers said that they restrict your access to certain websites, I am not sure if thats true or not but the prices are bad enough. The only reason I had AT&T was because of the Iphone and other than that I really dislike AT&T because of their prices and their customer service is okay other than the fact that the person seems to read from a script. I think AT&T may be losing alot of cusotemers when the contract with the Iphone ends which is only around 6 months away, once the Iphone is available to every carrier more people are going to switch to Sprint. I also have 5 lines with Sprint, and they have easy to understand plans. I pay 129.99 for the 1500 Data Share PLan, the 3rd 4th and 5th lines are 19.99 additional so thats $189.96 total and I get unlimited internet, unlimited messaging, unlimited roaming in America, and 1500 minutes with the Any Mobile, Any Time feature which lets me call any cell phone in the U.S. regardless of the carrier without deducting my minutes and I also get unlimited nights and weekends starting at 7PM which i think all other carriers nights start at 9PM, so the only way i can use my minutes is by calling a landline before 7PM on a weekday. Now seriously, how is Sprint not the best???? I was paying about 300+ a month at AT&T and I was still getting overage charges for going over my minutes. And I love my new HTC Hero. I ♥ SPRINT!!!!!!!

  33. Bryan Says:

    One thing that I did that I had some fun with, was up here in Traverse City, Michigan the Verizon People say i have no 3g coverage. Yet My iPhone shows 3g. I went into a verizon store to inquire (sarcasticly) and all the rep could say was “yeah i know” haha! what losers! thats how you prepare your reps. to say “yeah i know”. ATT/iPhone ROCKS!

  34. Mel Says:

    In New York city and across the nation, all the way to California. AT&T is absolutely horrendous!! Have the iPhone (or iDon’tPhone – to be strictly accurate), love the “device”, HATE that it is tethered to the world’s crappiest carrier. Yes, DevTeam, hack, Tmobile possible…their service is not as bad, but “WHY???” must one go through all of that just to use the phone as it was intended…to make PHONE CALLS?

    Dropped calls are constant, and not until traveling to England (after hacking the phone and using a SIM on their O2 network) did the phone act like a real phone. No dropped calls overseas…hmm! Just finished the 2-yr. AT&T jail sentence, and am so happy to be done with that ball and chain. Buh-bye AT&T…sorry iPhone, you’ve been relegated to a hacked iPod touch.

    Can’t afford Verizon’s inflated billing and charges, regardless of good service.

    When Sprint was my service provider (2 years ago now…), I could make and receive calls from virtually anywhere. Crappy phones back then, but the HTC Hero is looking pretty good. Think Sprint takes the prize here…at least on the East Coast. Sprints $99 Everything plan (including Roaming) how can that be beat? CAN’T WAIT TO BE ABLE TO COMPLETE A PHONE CONVERSATION WITHOUT HAVING TO RE-DIAL A DROPPED CALL!

  35. johnnovie Says:

    Hands down for sprint!!! HATE HATE HATE SPRINT !!! the customer service is the whorse I ever exsprerience in my life they almost gave me a heart attack no lie as crazy as it sounds they do not have any professionalism at all i hav been trying for yrs to get released from their contract thank god its finally coming up never never never again!!!

  36. verizon customer Says:

    I currently have verizon and am really unhappy with it. They nickel and dime you all the time and have recently created a mandatory internet plan on all phones except the ones known as "select" phones. These select phones are the ones that you get free after the rebate and are complete garbage. If you want a good phone then the best option that is at the lowest price end is one of the multimedia phones which requires a $9.99 data plan which is not unlimited. The next step up would be one of the web browsing phones which require a $30 plan and im not sure whether thats even unlimited. Verizons selection of phones is really nice and in my opinion trumps the competition but they really screw you price wise….So if you choose them for better coverage and all prepare to recieve a higher bill at the end of the month. I am personally planning to go with sprint because of their cheaper plans and the fact that its unlimited to any mobile phone no matter what plan which is unlike verizons cheapest but best plan for $10 extra 500 to any mobile and unlimited to in network

  37. Ian Says:

    I have att and im an iphone 4 carrier i have no problems with it i had verizon and it sucked. The prices were expensive, the plans were expensive, and their costomer service was stupid. Sprint may have 4G network, but its really 4G. Its not as fast as regular 4G. 4G network can't be made until 2011. Att is having 4G network on January 2011. Now the iphone 4 witch will become iphone 4G now will be ready in january 2011. So if any of yall have htc evo 4G on sprinty all r being riped off on 4G. ATT IS THE BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Henry Says:

    Had At&T horrible, coverage, customer Service etc. Switch to Sprint no comparison, Sprint unfortunately is under rated but I think they have improve tremendously and now a days is the best carrier hands down in every way.

  39. MissyGForce Says:

    I have Verizon. I'm so-so satisfied. They're outrageously expensive both the phones and their plans and everything inbetween.. But the service is really good. Never have lacked signal anywhere I've went. Even had signal in the boonies when Sprint did not. Never had AT&T but relatives do and they're always hit and miss as far as signal goes. They're pretty pricey too. Sprint has really good plans and pricing but didn't amaze or wow me with their products. Customer service also on Sprint was pretty good.. Verizon you have to fight tooth and nail to get anywhere. All in all, Verizon is too expensive but top notch signal speed and best products. Sprints products are meteocre and signal/service isn't as great but you don't pay half as much.. AT&T I would never mess with. Iphone is COMPLETELY Overrated. Sooo many better phones that do their work and so much more. AT&T is a joke.

  40. Shani Skinny Says:

    Check out this review on Verizon vs AT&T

  41. @skinnysmash Says:

    Verizon vs AT&T

  42. Rodney Says:

    Speint really is the best and that is coming from someone who has had verizon for YEARS!!!! Im switching in 3 weeks as soon as my contract is up

  43. Brian adams Says:

    Sprintt is the best.. I have a verizon phone and a sprint phone they are both android. I always have a 3g connection on my sprint phone. And most of the time on my verzion phone to but it seems like in building verizon is really slow. I tested them both when they had 3 bars of service andd my sprint phone was about 3 seconds fatsser at loading web pages . People think that sprint suck, but really in the past 2-3 years they have been adding new towers and increasin network speed. Overall they are about the same as verizon but i would go with sprint becuz it is cheaper. Sure the coverage map may be less but sprint roams onto verizon for free. Also sprint has unlimited data where as verizon doesnot

  44. truth Says:

    Verizon is #1 Sprint is #2 At&t is #3 and t-mobile is last. I think t-mobile is last because now their customer service is dropping very fast and they games me 3000 dollars in charges i never did, and i couldn't use my phone until i paid it, BUT you can only PAY on the PHONE. Crooks.

  45. billy Says:

    i have verizon. there service is good but they keep saying that my mom goes over on the minutes and we hardly talk on the phone they charge me for things i dont even buy and i have had nothing but bad luck with there phones. so i think im going to go with sprint.

  46. UHGTFT Says:

    ive had sprint , it sucks. ihave verizon and its the best 1! with verizon i get signal everywere.

  47. qqqqqq Says:

    It is not true about verizons prices there good prices

  48. Joe Lee Says:

    Good intentions but a tough test by any measure. Does your
    Cell phone working in an near your house? In and near your work place? In and near your customer sites? Do you have many drop calls after you have connected & stayed stationary to minimize RF nulls? Reliability and coverage in the areas that I spend 8o% of my time. When I travel to Paris I buy a NOKIA GSM Track Phone with limited time & use SKYPE calls via WIFI hot spots. Not convenient but keeps the family & business contacts in communication

  49. Chad Says:

    Verizon hands down is the best I've used & I'm all over the country………

  50. Ervin Says:

    Have you heard of Lightyear Wireless yet? They are a new wireless company that offers Unlimited Talk, Text and Web on a nationwide 3G Network for only $59.99 per month., and now 4G. You can TALK all you want, TEXT all you want and surf the WEB all you want for $59.99 per month. No contract, No deposit, No credit check, No commitment. You can keep your same phone number just port forward it over when you signup with Lightyear. There are NO restrictions and the service is great all over the U.S.. you can read more here==&gt ;

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