Choosing the right iPhone 5 carrier is more difficult than ever since 4G LTE is now a factor. Unfortunately, none of the three major iPhone 5 carriers are right for everybody and some buyers will miss out on the phone’s most important new feature if they don’t choose the right one.
My wife and I have been loyal AT&T customers for six years, since the original iPhone launched in 2006. For the first few years of the iPhone’s existence, AT&T rightfully earned a reputation for dropping calls, poor data connections and generally pissing off customers, especially in some markets such as New York and San Francisco.
But AT&T’s stepped up its game quite a bit since it lost its iPhone exclusivity when Verizon began selling the iPhone 4 in early 2011. A Verizon iPhone 4 wasn’t an option for me as I’d already owned an AT&T iPhone 4 for eight months by the time Apple rolled out the Verizon version. And I stuck with the AT&T for the iPhone 4S because it had the fastest data connection and I could finally place calls reliably.
AT&T vs. Verizon iPhone 5 4G LTE Speeds and Coverage
AT&T and Verizon are the only two iPhone carriers I considered this time around. Both deliver streaming speeds that match or best most people’s home Internet connections. Sprint also has a 4G LTE network, but it’s not live in San Francisco and currently available in just 19 markets, with plans to expand in the months after the iPhone 5 launch. The closest Sprint 4G LTE coverage after Sprint’s done with its next 4G LTE rollout will be 400 miles away in Los Angeles.
I initially wanted to go with a pair of Verizon iPhone 5s since Verizon has the most mature 4G LTE network, covering nearly 400 cities. I’ve been very pleased with Verizon’s 4G LTE network when using my New iPad and Galaxy Nexus in San Francisco. I’ve also seen good results when traveling to places like New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, but Verizon 4G LTE still isn’t everywhere.
Read More: New iPad Speed Tests: AT&T vs. Verizon 4G LTE
As you can see in the above video, AT&T’s 4G LTE network is as fast, if not faster than Verizon’s. AT&T’s 4G LTE network is in less than 50 markets as of today, but it is strong in my home town of San Francisco and the surrounding areas. AT&T plans to roll out 4G LTE to about 50 new markets by the end of the year.
Simultaneous Talk and Data
All iPhone 5 versions can of course handle simultaneous voice and data while on Wi-Fi networks, but the AT&T iPhone 5 is the only one that can let users access the Internet while on a call. That feature might not matter to some, but it’s a deal breaker for my wife and I.
Want to look up directions or movie times while on a call with the Sprint or Verizon iPhone 5? No can do if you’re away from a Wi-Fi network. Want to find a nearby restaurant to tell a caller where to meet you? Only the iPhone 5 can help you with that task.
AT&T Mobile Share plans allow subscribers to use the iPhone 5′s Mobile Hotspot feature for no additional fee. That means users can use the AT&T iPhone 5 to access the Internet with a laptop while on a conference call. With the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 5, users will see their laptop connections drop whenever they receive a call.
What’s maddening about the lack of simultaneous talk and data on the Verizon iPhone 5 is that the Verizon supports the feature on its other 4G LTE phones. Of course, those that don’t often use their iPhones as phones won’t mind this limitation.
AT&T Has a Better 3G/HSPA+ Network
I actually bought Sprint, Verizon and AT&T iPhone 4s’ to see which one had the best data connection. AT&T’s HSPA+ network was the only one of the three that could deliver decent download speeds and stream video here in San Francisco.
4G LTE is several times faster than 3G and the wireless technology AT&T calls 4G (HSPA+ ). But these slower networks will serve as fallbacks when 4G LTE isn’t available. Verizon and Sprint 3G is simply too slow for how I use the iPhone and I’d much rather rely on AT&T’s HSPA+ in a pinch than risk a nearly unusable 3G connection.