T-Mobile vs AT&T vs Verizon iPhone 5 Speed Test

Can the $99 T-Mobile iPhone 5 keep up with Verizon’s and AT&T’s? To find out, I pitted the three versions against each other in speed tests in several neighborhoods in San Francisco. While T-Mobile’s 4G LTE isn’t available in San Francisco, its 4G HSPA+ network performs admirably, besting Verizon’s 4G LTE speeds in many areas.

T-Mobile’s advertising its 4G LTE network as being capable of 100 Mbps download speeds, which is several times faster than most Americans’ home Internet connections. Unfortunately, T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network is only available in seven cities, with another 77 planned to launch this summer. Luckily, T-Mobile’s relatively mature 4G HSPA+ network runs at up to 42 Mbps, which is much faster than what AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers see when 4G LTE isn’t available.

Read: AT&T vs Verizon iPhone 5: Why AT&T Won My Wallet

iphone-5-t-mobile-apple-store-speedtest-app1

I didn’t test Sprint’s network in San Francisco because the carrier doesn’t cover my hometown in 4G LTE coverage yet. iPhone 5 users are relegated to Sprint’s slow 3G network in San Francisco, unless they happen to be on one of two highways.

As you can see in the above video, the T-Mobile iPhone 5 performs just fine in San Francisco. Shoppers looking at T-Mobile’s bargain $99 iPhone 5 shouldn’t let the lack of 4G LTE coverage bother them too much, so long as there’s solid HSPA+ coverage. The download speeds I saw over T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network are plenty fast to stream video and download other content. As with all wireless networks, your mileage will vary and there will be slow spots and dead zones. Be sure to test out any new iPhone’s data and voice connections at home, work and other places you spend a lot of time before the return period expires.

Advertisement

Rush Hour iPhone 5 Speed Tests

I tested the iPhone 5 speeds on the networks in the late afternoon as I drove from the northern edge of San Francisco to my house, which sits about two miles from the city’s southern border. San Francisco is a small city that measures just seven miles square, but it’s very challenging for wireless carriers to cover well because of its numerous hills, old construction and high concentration of smartphone users.

I bought our test iPhone 5 from the T-Mobile store on Chestnut Street in San Francisco the first day the carrier began selling iPhones. This T-Mobile store just happens to be about a block away from an Apple store. Wireless carriers always try to cover Apple stores with strong wireless signals.

I ran the Speedtest.net app three times at each location three times and picked the best speeds to show below.

iphone-5-att-speed-apple-store1First up was AT&T, the carrier that caused oh so many headaches for early iPhone users. AT&T’s improved its network in San Francisco drastically over the past couple of years and is now my top pick for those that live in the area. On Chestnut street the AT&T 4G LTE network clocked in 5.46 Mbps download and 6.99 Mbps upload speeds. That’s fast enough for most uses, but on the low end for video streaming and Mobile Hotspot.

iphone-5-verizon-speed-apple-store1Verizon’s 4G LTE network was even slower, delivering just 2.47 Mbps downloads and 4.44 Mbps uploads. Download speeds in this range feel noticeably slow and are what you’d expect out of a 3G network, not a 4G LTE network. Verizon was the first carrier to bring 4G LTE to San Francisco, but network congestion and other issues have put the brakes on what was once a blazing fast network citywide.

iphone-5-t-mobile-speedSurprisingly, T-Mobile clocked in the fastest download speeds at this location, even though its 4G LTE network was missing in action. At 13.47 Mbps, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network smoked the AT&T and Verizon 4G LTE networks in this trendy neighborhood. Unfortunately, upload speeds were just .51 Mbps, which could be a problem for those uploading content or emailing files. The slow upload speeds would be especially noticeable when using the iPhone 5′s Mobile Hotspot feature.

iphone-5-att-gough-My next iPhone 5 speed test stop was on Gough Streeet near California Street in Pacific Heights a couple of hours later. As I’ve mentioned before, wireless carriers’ speeds and reliability vary from block to block. Though this intersection is just a mile and half away from the Apple store on Chestnut Street where I ran the first series of speed tests, the results were quite different.

AT&T’s 4G LTE netwok clocked in download speeds of 7.35 Mbps and fast upload speeds of 15.11 Mbps. Both scores were a little faster than the previous tests, but still far below what AT&T’s LTE network is capable of.

iphone-5-verizon-goughThe Verizon iPhone 5 could place and receive calls on Gough street during rush hour, but its data connection was unusable. The Speedtest.net app reported that there was no data connection the first two times I ran it. The third time I ran the test on the Verizon iPhone 5 it scored a miserably low .58 Mbps down and .05 Mbps up.

Verizon has perhaps the best reputation for reliability and has the largest 4G LTE footprint in the U.S. This speed test served as a reminder that no network is perfect.

iphone-5-t-mobile-goughThe T-Mobile iPhone 5  was also slower than it was at the original test location. With 4.64 Mbps download speeds, the T-Mobile iPhone 5 could quickly load Web sites, but it was disappointing to see download speeds that were two-thirds lower than the first tests.

T-Mobile’s upload speeds were up to almost 1 Mbps, but that’s still too slow for many users. Of course both T-Mobile scores were better than Verizon’s at this location.

Turning onto Market street, I stopped near Church Street in the Castro district to run a third set of speed tests.

iphone-5-t-mobile-market-21

iphone-5-att-market-1AT&T finally showed off its 4G LTE chops, delivering data at a rate of 22.98 Mbps down and 10.46 Mbps up. Those kinds of speeds are faster than most people’s home Internet connections and is more than enough to do just about anything you’d desire on a smartphone. Using a computer tapped into the iPhone 5′s Mobile Hotspot feels almost the same as using it on a speedy Wi-Fi network.  At last we had something approaching ‘real’ 4G LTE speeds.

iphone-5-verizon-market-1Like AT&T, Verizon picked up the pace at the third test location, but the download speeds still left a lot to be desired. The fastest download speed we could muster on the Verizon iPhone 5 was 3.51 Mbps. Upload speeds peaked at 8.38 Mbps. Verizon’s download speeds were less than 10% of what I’ve seen from the carrier’s LTE network in some locations.

iphone-5-t-mobile-market-1T-Mobile improved to 7.86 Mbps down and 1.34 Mbps on Market Street. That’s a respectable download speed, but it would be very frustrating to upload content at a hair over 1 Mbps. Another thing to note is that the Speedtest.net app was showing pings near half a second (.449 second) on T-Mobile’s network at this location. A half second may not sound like a lot, but it’s nearly 10 times more than what we saw on previous speed tests.

I drove up Market Street towards Twin Peaks and stopped on Portola Drive, just a few blocks from the highest point of San Francisco. This is where things got really fast..at least for AT&T.

iphone-5-att-portola1At the corner of Portola Drive and O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, the AT&T iPhone 5 was able to download data at a blistering rate of 50.19 Mbps. That’s a faster score than what I get at home on my 100 Mbps Comcast connection. The AT&T iPhone 5 also clocked in the fastest upload speeds of the day at 13.99 Mbps.

While the AT&T results were certainly impressive on Portola Drive, it is a residential area where people are more likely to be connected to Wi-Fi networks.

Verizon made another poor showing at our final stop, falling shy of the 4 Mbps mark on downloads and limping along at .05 Mbps when attempting the upload test. The experience with Verizon was much worese than we’ve ever seen in the San Francisco Bay Area before. We typically see very fast Verizon 4G LTE speeds in San Francisco’s Financial District, South of Market and other densely-populated neighborhoods. iphone-5-t-verizon-portola

iphone-5-t-mobile-portola1Like AT&T, T-Mobile made its best showing on Portola Drive. At 14.53 Mbps, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network blew away Verizon, but didn’t come close to AT&T’s 4G LTE network.

T-Mobile is offering a lot of value with its $99 iPhone 5 offer and affordable subscriptions, especially if you’re distributing several iPhones to family members. While T-Mobile’s 4G LTE and voice networks aren’t as mature as AT&T’s and Verizon’s, Apple’s newest wireless partner offers plenty of speed for most users.

ReadT-Mobile Remains a Second Class Citizen in iPhone 5 Land

Comments

  1. Zork1 says

    Great to see real world tests. I wish I could rent an iphone 5 from att,Verizon, tmobile and sprint… And then try them all at home and in the office.

    • You can says

      U can. It’s called return them after your tests and say their service is not satisfactory for your uses.

  2. Larry says

    Ya lets try this in so Cali now!!! And see what happens I’m in Fontana ca 92336 and we do have my friends AT&T my t mobile and a Verizon iPhone 5 all iPhone 5′s and guess what?? T mobile did the best here both Verizon and AT&T using you tube fails to connect and buffers and quits, t mobile no problem ! Verizon is good for calls AT&T is good for data t mobile was quickest of all!! So paying more for Verizon and AT&T don’t get you the best!! Just you feed there greed!! Go t mobile!! And save $$$ we all do these days!!

    • Jody says

      I’ll call your BS on that. I live there and T-Mobile blows. If the phone isn’t searching for signal inside any building I’m getting 200 Kbps download speeds unless I’m directly under a cell site.

      I’m not saying T-Mobile won’t get better with LTE but their service sucks so much in parts of Rancho Cucamonga and north Fontana.

      • Larry says

        Don’t know what you have iPhone 5 or some ghetto old model like the rest in the ghetto inland empire like you!! Mine works fine iPhone 5 jailbroke too works fine!! It’s your opinion duche bag!! Things change block to a mile away but my phone no problem!!

  3. Ryor says

    Great article !!! I like the idea that you traveled around and tested the networks in several locations.Thank you.

  4. Ricardo says

    AT&T 4G LTE in Kansas City and surrounding areas, is also very good. I consistently get in the range of 30-50 Mbps. Funny because I live less than a mile from Sprint headquarters, and I’ve compared their speeds with friends who have their service, and their 4G speeds leave a lot to be desired. Usually in the range of 7-10 Mbps. Interesting.

  5. John says

    Can you say T-Mobile fanboy with incorrect stats of one phone in a bossted are to make them look good I average 15-42Mbs on Verizon tested in 9 LTE including extended areas Markets in SC Verizon had the same Test results when they first tested theres, AT&T the same. It means nothing until that actually get LTE markets and right noe they are over a year behind. So please get real facts and stop fanboying false Articles.

    • John says

      Also No one has gotten even close to that speed on the norm the highest T-Mobile averages 5-8 Mbs on HSPA+ across the US fake 4g HSPA 3G technology

    • Larry says

      You and AT&T n Verizon suck the big one!! Can you hear me now??? Good!!! You AT&T n Verizon people can spend all your money and ill save with my t mobile and works great for me ya keep making Verizon or AT&T who you have .. So rethink possible!! Duche bag!!

  6. Riley says

    It looks like T-Mobile kept the most consistent speed around town. From my experience with my iPhone 5, I have gotten similar speeds and they work well for streaming and downloading. I like to catch up on my live and recorded shows using my phone on the trip to and from work at DISH, as it takes a while to get there. The app I stream with is the DISH Anywhere app, which lets me watch my shows wherever I go, and it works well on the iPhone 5.

  7. mike says

    great comparison! i don’t know what happened to VZW?? but they have just died and word is going to continue to spread that they don’t know how to fix it. was so over joyed when i first tried their LTE but i won’t be going back to them for the foreseeable future as they are just slow, slow, slow, except in rare locations.

    currently i’m with an inexpensive Tmobile plan, but considering an unlocked phone in the future so i can try ATT as well.

    mountain view area is OK, but palo alto could be better (significantly, Stanford, is a network ghost town for all except ATT)

  8. beachfitrob says

    If you want to try out TMob HSPA+ on the cheap, use us as your MVNO. $49 plus tax unlimited. 4 gig soft cap which is probably plenty. I’m a tech guy and I don’t use that much. 3 gigs, maybe. rob from http://circlephone.com

  9. Joshua Goose says

    The story is flawed because it does not mention the fact that Verizon Launched 4G LTE about a year way before anyone else did. Verizon Also has many more 4G LTE users than At&T and T-mobile. While T-mobile speeds were impressive this story is incomplete with compounding facts such as the percent of actual LTE users on each network. This story Gives a false impression of which network is actually faster.

    • Ivy Vine says

      The T-Mobile tests were not using 4G LTE as it is not yet available in SF. It was only using the 4G HSPA+. Once we get LTE coverage here (it is available in San Jose right now only), then the speeds will pick up even more. So when comparing the lower HSPA+ speeds to those LTE from AT&T and Verizon, you can see that they can be kind of equal (or better) than some LTE speeds already. You can see how the number of users on T-Mobile’s network slows speeds down on their HSPA+ network. If they were testing LTE in SF with only a handful of users that had LTE devices on the network, that would be a different story, but they were NOT testing any LTE for T-Mobile at this time, only the current speeds for the iPhone 5 for each network. The iPhone 5 will get LTE speeds on that network once it is fully up and running here.

  10. rebel bennie says

    3g would have been kick ass if we would have gotten 3 mpbs dl. lol like 3g speeds.

  11. Anonymous Bumble-Bee says

    ……What about Sprint??…. 0_0 Why Sprint is not on the race?……. YOU CALLED US SLOW!!?? >:o

  12. Cam den says

    I’m on TMO with an iPhone 5. I’m located in the Detroit area and I get a consistent 20-30Mbps down and 10mbps up on HSPA+. Not bad so I won’t complain, at all. Also depending on where I am downtown I will pick up LTE..it should be rolled out in the metro Detroit area by end of June I’d say.

  13. Adam says

    glad to see this comparison done. I have a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and live two blocks from the California/Gough location of your test. 18mo ago I pulled 20-25Mbit up and down but for the last few months, I often barely pull 1Mbit download on the phone. It’s slower than 3G… it’s like dialup. I thought I was being throttled, but only use 2-3GB a month with an unlimited plan. I’ve called Verizon to discuss it and stopped in the store on Van Ness, but they always give me a run around. “try a master reset of your phone”. I really want to switch carriers, but they all have some sort of issue you have to settle with.

Leave a Reply