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iPhone 4S 3G Speed Test: AT&T vs. Sprint vs. Verizon (part 1)

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The various versions of the iPhone 4S might all look the same, but wireless data speeds can vary greatly depending on which carrier you choose. We’re putting the iPhone 4S to the test on the AT&T, Sprint and Verizon 3G networks.

To test the iPhone 4S on these three networks, we’ll be running several tests over a week or so in the San Francisco Bay Area, an area with a high concentration of smartphone users. San Francisco is a particularly challenging city for wireless networks to deal with due to the numerous hills and mix of skyscrapers and older buildings that don’t always play nicely with 3G signals.

As with any wireless networking tests, your personal experience will vary depending on your exact location, network conditions and other factors. We recommend checking out friends iPhones where you live and work before signing the next two years of your wireless life over to AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.

iPhone 4S Speedtest.net in San Francisco (Twin Peaks)

To test the iPhone 4S 3G speeds, I ran the Speedtest.net app several times on each of our test devices at a Starbucks in San Francisco. All three of the iPhone 4S units we’re using in these tests were purchased from their respective carriers and have 64GB capacities. I turned Wi-Fi off and I killed all the other apps prior to running the Speedtest.net app.

Here’s a video of the iPhone 4S 3G speed tests, which I shot with my Droid Bionic, a phone that runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE, a network that’s much faster than anything we’ll see from any of the iPhone 4S models.

As you’ll notice in the video, iPhone 4S 3G speeds can vary greatly between runs. Nonetheless, the Speedtest.net application gives us a good idea of how each 3G network performs at any given location. Speaking of location, the exact location of these tests is the Starbucks on Portola Ave, which is a busy street that runs through several residential neighborhoods.

As you can see in the above video the AT&T iPhone 4S has the fastest 3G speeds of the group. The AT&T iPhone 4S scored 3.87 Mbps in the download test, which is at least 74% faster than the next fastest score. Verizon’s fastest result was a respectable 2.22 Mbps. Sprint topped out at just 1.09 Mbps, just over a quarter of the maximum speed of the AT&T iPhone 4S.

AT&T also had the fastest upload speeds, with a maximum of 1.13 Mbps, which was more than double Verizon’s best effort of just .43 Mbps. AT&T’s fastest upload speed edged out Sprint’s fastest upload speed of .91 Mbps.

Again, 3G speeds will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and building to building, so don’t base your iPhone 4S purchasing decision solely on any one network speed comparison.

So what does all this mean? It means that if you frequent this particular cafe or live and work nearby AT&T is your best bet if 3G speed is your primary concern. As you’ll see in our next You should of course consider call quality, plan options and other factors before deciding. The AT&T iPhone 4S can download apps faster than the other two at this location and streaming video from Netflix is smoother. Web pages loaded much faster on the AT&T iPhone 4S than the other two.

Here are the full results of the three SpeedTest.net runs on the iPhone 4S units.

iPhone 4S 3G Speed test

iPhone 4S Speedtest.net #1:

  • Sprint: 1.23Mbps download, .91 Mbps upload
  • Verizon iPhone 4S: 1.18Mbps download, .24 Mbps upload
  • AT&T iPhone 4S: 1.80Mbps download, 1.13 Mbps upload

iPhone 4S Speedtest.net #2:

  • Sprint iPhone 4s: 1.09 Mbps download, .85 Mbps upload
  • Verizon iPhone 4S: 1.75 Mbps, .43 Mbps upload
  • AT&T iPhone 4s: 3.87 Mbps, 1.11 Mbps upload

iPhone 4S Speedtest.net #3

  • Sprint iPhone 4S: .98 Mbps download, .86 Mbps upload
  • Verizon iPhone 4S: 2.22 Mbps download, .41 Mbps upload
  • AT&T iPhone 4S: 3.12 Mbps download, 1.12 Mbps upload

Last week I ran the Speedtest.net app on the Verizon iPhone 4S and AT&T iPhone 4S at my house, which is about half a mile away from the Starbucks where I ran the above test. AT&T 3G speeds are much faster there than at the cafe, with downloads clocking in at over 5 Mbps. Verizon 3G speed is about the same at home as it is at the cafe. You can read more about the earlier iPhone 4 3G speed tests here.

iphone 4s speed 3G att speed test

 

Stay tuned for more iPhone 4S speed comparisons.

You can read our full iPhone 4S review here and read the latest iPhone 4S news here.

 

Xavier Lanier is the publisher of Gotta Be Mobile and a photographer. He uses too many devices to count, but his current favorites are the iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nikon D800 and Sony RX 100M II. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

37 Comments

  1. ??? ?

    10/19/2011 at 8:49 pm

    3G?? Is this article from 2009 or something?? LTE or nothing

    • Fred Fnord

      10/24/2011 at 4:20 pm

      I AM NOTHING WITHOUT THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY!

    • jbrandonf

      04/10/2012 at 11:14 am

      Really? That doesn’t always work for everyone else. Battery life may be a concern and in that regard HSPA+ which is what the at&t 4S is running on gives some good speeds with better battery life than LTE phones.

  2. Lkej

    10/19/2011 at 8:57 pm

    Sprint is much faster where I live. 

    • Xavier Lanier

      10/19/2011 at 9:47 pm

      I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Speeds will vary from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. That’s why I suggest trying out an iPhone 4S or two in your area before buying. 

    • Brad

      07/01/2012 at 8:03 pm

      If you look they are using a different host for sprint then they are for the att and verizon phones… probably a bad host for sprint…

  3. Lkej

    10/19/2011 at 8:58 pm

    AT&T is very unreliable and like Verizon extremely overpriced

    • Juergen

      01/14/2013 at 11:00 am

      Do you have sprint? I am seriously considering switching to them. AT&T is realy expensive and sprint offers very good rates. Just worried about sevice issues.

  4. NorthTOSouth

    10/19/2011 at 9:05 pm

    Go read the comment on this video on Youtube. So ture

  5. Chantimovilpena

    10/19/2011 at 9:31 pm

    he never said that the iPhone runs on LTE, he said the droid bionic is the one that runs on LTE, try going to school and learn how to read first before insulting….. DUMB FUCK!!!!

  6. Xbox Live Code

    10/19/2011 at 10:40 pm

    Great Job

  7. funnyandspicy

    10/20/2011 at 1:21 am

    Each time a new iPhone comes out, it’s a slight
    improvement over the last.Let’s go down the memory lane and figure out the
    people and technology.   

    http://goo.gl/L89ss

  8. wallace

    10/20/2011 at 1:51 am

    my coverage is excellent on AT&T I  have had Sprint & T-mobile and my roommate has Verizon and I get better service on my iPhone 4s than he does.  

    • Alex

      08/07/2012 at 5:48 pm

      Yes but what about when you travel or when you leave your house does it stay consistent or stable when I used T-Mobile it dropped and picked up when switching to tower to tower same with sprint but Verizon is rock steady :)

  9. Mufreq

    10/20/2011 at 7:01 am

    one also need to take into account the application itself.  Speedtest.net on my device showed slower than desired throughput, however while using Xtreme Labs app it showed 3 times better….beware of app only results…throughput applicaitons and servers that you are using have dramatically different performance characteristics over time

  10. ESS_in_Midwest

    10/20/2011 at 7:06 am

    Not a fair or very accurate test in my opinion.   1) Your San Fran test using different Speed Test hosts.  The Sprint was hosted by San Fran site “Monkey Brains” while Verizon and AT&T were hosted by “Unwired” in San Fran.  My experience using “Speed Test” is that test results can vary dramatically from host site to host site.  2) Also, there was no confirmation before testing to make sure that all 3 iPhones were running the same base of background apps.  Background apps can significantly impact results as well.

    I would like to see much more rigor testing speeds not just you but many others who are “testing” the majors with the iPhone 4s.   

    • Xavier Lanier

      10/20/2011 at 7:05 pm

      There’s no question that Sprint is slower in my neighborhood than the other networks. Speedtest.net isn’t perfect, but it is an indicator of what users can expect. Here’s a follow-up article that shows exactly how slow 3G can impact users: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/10/20/iphone-4s-netflix-streaming-att-vs-sprint-video/

  11. Brandt

    10/20/2011 at 7:45 am

    Don’t waste any brain cells justifying this article. Three speed tests in one area tells you nothing. Nobody is surprised that At&t has a faster network. The fact that they run voice and data over different channels on the towers means you can talk and surf at the same time, but also means you will have faster data. Consumers will not be able to tell the difference from 1.18 download speeds or 1.73. What really matters is the fact that Sprint has UNLIMITED data. Even if its a tad bit slower, the piece of mind is worth it. This writer talks about streaming Netflix over At&t’s network. I would never even think of doing that knowing I only had 2GB of data in my plan and not knowing how much data I just used. Go with the iPhone you can use as much as you want, even if its a bit slower.

  12. Tim Davies

    10/20/2011 at 8:24 am

    I actually get those same numbers with my ATT iPhone 4…..

  13. Noserotonin

    10/22/2011 at 12:11 pm

    Based on your google map screenshot, you were testing in Livermore, CA and not SF.

    If you mean Twin Peaks, I think you meant Portola Drive.

    Otherwise, it’s great to know speeds are good in the East Bay :-p

    • Cdub

      10/27/2011 at 7:34 am

      AT&T supports the 4s’ 14.4 hsdpa chipset, which gives the iPhone 4g-like speeds. Verizon and Sprint do not. So, better voice on Verizon and Sprint, but better downloads on AT&T

      • Alex

        08/07/2012 at 5:53 pm

        and the iPhone 4S I believe also supports T-Mobile’s HSPA+42Mbps when running on 1900Mhz I wonder why AT&T didn’t upgrade to 42 or even 82 :) Probably cause of cost and LTE advantages

  14. RonOfHillsOfSF

    11/08/2011 at 3:02 am

    Do all 3 carriers allow “refund, including to return the phone & cancel contract” within the “first 30 days”??  If that is the case, I am tempted to get my iPhone4s from Sprint…that is, if I can return it if the speed as well as call connection is unacceptable.  Who knows?

  15. Unclefocus

    11/08/2011 at 4:23 pm

    Just went in to a Sprint store in Alameda and they said you have 14 days to test the phone without locking in and owning your contract/phone, but you will pay a re stocking fee- $36 I think.

  16. Unclefocus

    11/08/2011 at 4:29 pm

    My big issue is needing the best 3G down and up load speeds to run face time with my deaf mother.  I wanted to switch from AT&T and get the 4s on Sprint, but all of the test I’ve seen say they have the slowest speeds, but unlimited will come in handy if I use video chat often.  Anyone know if Sprint’s data speeds are fast enough to run video without it being too choppy?  (Sprint data speeds sign language friendly?)

  17. Timothy Roth

    11/16/2011 at 9:18 pm

    IN all honesty, Why pay for Facetime? Just use SKYPE for video calling? Fastest network, Easiest to use. And yes, Actually according to APPLE’s documentation, the iPhone 4S uses HSDPA, but according to about 150 different sources I’ve researched, the iPHone 4S really DOES use “HSPA+” technology. And for this, I’ve seen friends here in Columbus, Ohio get upwards of 7.8Mbps Downstreams and upwards of 2.5Mbps Upstreams regularly. the thing is with the AT&T GSM iPhone 4S, is that the chip is the same as the one they use for the CDMA versions of the phone, such as for Verizon and Sprint. HOWEVER, Since Sprint/Verizon don’t have an HSPA+ capable 3G/3.5G (I call it 3.5G since it’s basically an evolved 3G network), Their HSPA+ capability is turned off. Both of those providers went strictly to LTE, whereas AT&T just added a little bit of hardware to their currently existing 3G network to upgrade to HSPA+. 

    With the above being said, the HSPA+ architecture of the Data chip is ENABLED in the AT&T Version of the phone, whereas in the Verizon/Sprint models, It is disabled since it’s of no use on their networks.

    So yes, Almost everywhere you go, The AT&T iPhone 4S is going to be about 3-5x faster on average testing. I am going to be getting MINE here in about 3-4 days, and I will let you know on regular testing, what my results are.

    • Alex

      08/07/2012 at 5:57 pm

      1.) Verizon & Sprint have no GSM capabilities so HSPA+ isnt even possible (they run CDMA EV-DO/1XRTT + LTE)
      2.) The iPhone 4S on Verizon does support HSPA+ when roaming eg. inserting a SIM (other than AT&T or T-Mobile or any MVNO’s) from a foreign country will make it run on a GSM network
      3.) I have a Verizon iPhone 4S unlocked with a interposer and it runs on T-Mobile :P HSPA+42 when 1900Mhz is available :D

  18. Chris Smithh

    11/29/2011 at 5:33 pm

    Iphone 4s does not support hspa+. in fact, it seems the iphone 4s is very rate limited (either by carrier or by apple).

    take any 3g phone and any iphone 4s phone, put them in the same room at the same time – make sure they are BOTH on the same network (AT&T for example) – and not using wifi.

    the 3g phone (blackberry, android, etc) gets 6mb/sec while the iphone gets 1-2… ? If you happen to be in an area where the iphone gets 3-5mb, the blackberry/android will do 9-12mb….

    funny how iphone users dont notice this is happening to them

    • Alex

      08/07/2012 at 5:59 pm

      My iPhone 4S (when running on T-Mobile 1900Mhz HSPA+42Mbps) hit 20Mbps so your very wrong and in Vermont my uncle on AT&T HSPA+ got 5Mbps with 2 bars.
      If your gonna hate at least get your facts right!

  19. Cbw_1968

    12/09/2011 at 11:26 am

    How does this compare to the best Android phones for those networks? I hear the Android users hyping their “4g” but I thought whatwe actually have is more like 3G turbo.

  20. Mike

    12/11/2011 at 8:52 am

    To be fair, at@t was probably using its 3.5g connection in the area, which the 4s is compatable with.

  21. Johbrownn

    03/23/2012 at 8:47 am

    So what career has the fastest speeds ?

    • Alex

      08/07/2012 at 6:00 pm

      Verizon on LTE capable of 166Mbps but not on iPhone :) 7Mbps on iPhone 4S Verizon :)

  22. Bradley

    08/29/2012 at 10:49 pm

    Thought I’d add some out of USA results. Tests from central Auckland, New Zealand.
    The best my iPhone 4S got was 7.89Mbps down / 1.6Mbps up. That was on a 5 bar signal. It varies a lot but the average is between 5 and 6Mbps down. Ping about 60ms.
    The carrier was, Telecom NZ which is a 3G WCDMA carrier (supports 850MHz-2100MHz, WCDMA, HSPA, HSDPA, HSUPA).

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