iPhone 5 4G LTE Speed: AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Verizon

The iPhone 5 features 4G LTE, but not all 4G LTE networks are equal. Speed, reliability and what you can do on the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon 4G LTE networks vary wildly. AT&T is my top pick for people who live and work in San Francisco, partially because of its solid upload and download speeds.

As part of my duties here at Gotta Be Mobile, I have way more mobile phones than anyone really needs. My primary phone is an AT&T iPhone 5. I usually care one or two spare phones with me. My current backup phones with active service include a pair of iPhone 5s (Verizon & T-Mobile), a HTC One (AT&T), a Samsung Galaxy S4 (AT&T) and a Nexus 4 (T-Mobile). AT&T’s service is far from perfect, but overall it’s the best for me and the one I’d pick if I could only have one service.

Wireless coverage and speed varies from house to house and block to block, especially in a city like San Francisco that has lots of hills and old buildings. The high density of smartphone users doesn’t do much to help the situation either.

Above is a video that demonstrates what kind of 4G LTE speeds my iPhone 5s were getting near the Bay Bridge. AT&T is the most consistent performer when it comes to data speeds around San Francisco. When 4G LTE is missing in action, AT&T’s speedy HSPA+ (4G) kicks in and it’s still fast enough for most tasks.

Here is a summary of the 4G LTE SpeedTests:

AT&T 4G LTE:

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  1. Download 13.30 Mbps, Upload 10.51  Mbps
  2. Download 9.84 Mbps, Upload 10.94 Mbps
  3. Download 14.01 Mbps, Upload 10.66 Mbps

T-Mobile 4G LTE:

  1. 14.17 Mbps Download, 6.30 Mbps Upload
  2. 7.13 Mbps Download, 7.60 Mbps Upload
  3. 13.86 Mbps Download, 8.00 Mbps

Verizon 4G LTE:

  1. 2.25 Mbps Download, 0.03 Mbps Upload
  2. 1.77 Mbps Download, 0.08 Mbps Upload
  3. 2.68 Mbps Download, 0.09 Mbps Upload

As I mentioned in the first video, Verizon used to be the king of 4G LTE in San Francisco. I still see solid speeds in parts of San Francisco and use my Verizon iPhone 5 as a wireless hotspot since I have an unlimited data plan from Verizon. But as more people in the area bought Verizon 4G LTE devices over the past two years I’ve watched Verizon’s 4G LTE speed and reliability degrade. Above is a video of what Verizon 4G LTE speeds used to be like back in the good old days. Unlike AT&T, Verizon doesn’t have a fast backup network when 4G LTE isn’t available, instead diverting users to its slow 3G network.

Unfortunately, no wireless network is anywhere near perfect. When I say AT&T is my favorite network IN San Francisco, I mean IN San Francisco. When I go visit relatives in nearby Pacifica my AT&T iPhone 5 usually displays a “no service” rather than signal bars, while Verizon delivers solid voice and data connections.

T-Mobile is the newest carrier to light up a 4G LTE network in San Francisco. While T-Mobile’s plans are very attractive, the network is inconsistent. At times it’s as fast or faster than AT&T and Verizon. At other times I can’t even make a call or browse the web.

Sprint 4G LTE San Francisco

Sprint is the only major carrier that I don’t currently subscribe to. That network invested a ton of money and time on a different 4G technology called WiMax, which it’s in the process of abandoning. Sprint only sells 4G LTE devices these days, but it’s playing catchup to the other carriers in some areas. One of those areas is San Francisco, where Sprint 4G LTE is sparse. The prospect of unlimited data might sound tempting, but I recommend San Francisco residents avoid buying Sprint 4G LTE devices until the city is actually covered by Sprint 4G LTE.

Another key reason why AT&T is my favorite network in San Francisco is because it can transmit both voice and data simultaneously. That means I can do things like look up movie showtimes using the Fandango app while on the phone with my wife. It means my AT&T iPhone 5 can fetch new emails while I’m discussing a business proposal on the same phone. The T-Mobile iPhone 5 can do the same thing, but the Sprint and Verizon versions cannot.

Speed is just one piece of the mobile puzzle. Remember to consider voice reliability, data limits and rate plan costs before buying an iPhone 5 on any network.

  

Comments

  1. Yokani says

    When in 4G LTE coverage area, both Sprint and Verizon allow for simultaneous voice and data (voice over 3G, data over 4G).

    • matt says

      no. verizon does not offer simultaneous voice and data in 4G LTE areas.
      suprising no one has corrected you yet

      • Dragon says

        You can i most 4g phone and some 4g/3g phones are svdo capable

        And i can talk and surf on my htc rezound on verzion on 3g at same time ..As well as 4g.

  2. alfredo says

    Ha much pay att for that wen i travel to san francisco my Gs3 from veruzon download 17mp with only 3 bars

  3. alfredo says

    I go my last vacations in april 2013 with my galaxy s3 in san fracisco zoo get 3 or 4 bars of 4G Lte and my speed test trow me 17 mgb down and 11mgb upload in the all san francisco ca area way you get 2 mgb alex…? Do you test verizon iphone in 3G..!!!

  4. alfredo says

    And with verizon get 4G Lte all areas…small towns like soledad ca greenfield ca king city with at&t not

    • Techdude says

      ATT just flip the switch on here in Soledad for LTE. Verizon is gearing up for a new tower here in Soledad we only gets lte extended coverage here. Sprint also flip the switch on LTE for most of the south county cities besides Soledad, but it will be on the next few months. t mobile forget it

  5. alfredo says

    My mom live in las vegas nv and have iphone 5 from verizon all day get ober the 35mgb down and 13 to 17 mgb upload and 4G Lte in 98% the vegas city at&t not

  6. nancy says

    I live in greenfield ca cp 93927 i have verizon Galaxy s4 i get 4G Lte anywere hir king city Gonzalez paso robles Salinas ….so and my sister and his husband with AT&T only get 4G Lte wen travel to Salinas (and poor recepcion go and bak ) i get speedtest from 17 to 45 down 9 to 15 up and my sister with att 1 or .80 up in famous 4G HPs+ lol

  7. Mike says

    Xavier great coverage, pardon the pun, on the LTE networks. In addition to a VZ Iphone and Droid, I’ve been using a Verizon LTE jetpack as my home internet (Haight /Cole Valley) for the last 15 mos. I was really psyched to be using wireless at 6-12 down/ 1-3 up. However the last 3 mos. it’s been horrible. My speed tests (speakeasy and Root Metrics) from home have been under 500Kbps most times and that’s when it works. Many times it just times out. Downtown office hasn’t been much better.

    I finally caved and got Xfinity at home since the Jetpack wasn’t cutting it and I was growing resentful by the minute of everyone else who was streaming movies/shows at home. Well so much for being cutting edge., Sending smoke signals from the roof seemed to be faster than Vz LTE. I sure hope Vz starts building out additional infrastructure. I’ll be still testing from my phone to see if it’s improved.

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