AT&T 4G LTE is still the best choice for iPhone 5s buyers in San Francisco. While I don’t recommend buying a new iPhone until the iPhone 6 is released, those that absolutely must buy a new iPhone before then should select the AT&T iPhone 5s if they’re able to. That’s because I’ve found that the AT&T iPhone 5s has the best consistent reception and download speeds out of all four major wireless networks.
I’m one of a handful of people that actually uses and carries devices on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon regularly. My initial experience with AT&T was pretty poor back when I bought my first iPhone, but the wireless carrier’s really improved its service in San Francisco over the past four years or so. If you’d told me five years ago that AT&T would be my favorite wireless network in San Francisco in the future, I would’ve thought you were crazy.
The above video is a quick demo of all four of my iPhones running the Speedtest app in the Marina neighborhood, just across the street from the Chestnut St. Apple Store. I recorded this video in October of 2013, just after Apple released the iPhone 5s. As you can see, the speed tests were a mixed bag, with only T-Mobile delivering speeds faster than 10 Mbps. Sprint scored about 7 Mbps, while AT&T hovered around 4 Mbps. Verizon had some real problems in this test, but speeds at this location have drastically improved. AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds were uncharacteristically slow at this location and have since picked up considerably.
As I always note in my speed tests, coverage and speeds can vary from block to block and house to house. There’s no magic network in San Francisco, a city that’s notoriously rough on wireless signals because of its numerous hills and old buildings. But after spending almost a year with the iPhone 5s, it’s clear that AT&T is the best choice out of the four. The AT&T iPhone 5s rarely drops voice calls and I’m almost never left wanting for more speed. The exception to this is when I attend tech industry events that are overrun with thousands of geeks taxing wireless networks. Verizon’s 4G LTE network delivers extremely fast speeds in some areas, but is extremely slow in others. T-Mobile and Sprint are both mixed bags, with smaller pockets of acceptable speeds.
Sprint seems to have the biggest holes in its 4G LTE coverage and it drives me crazy. Yesterday I was carrying several devices when I was on 2nd St. in San Francisco, just a few blocks from Twitter’s headquarters and in the midst of several other tech companies. The area’s a technology hotbed and the neighborhood is where both Google and Apple launch major products and hold their annual developer conferences. While I waited in my car outside of an advertising company’s offices, I fired up the Facebook app on my Sprint iPhone 5s to see what photo a friend of mine had liked. It took a ridiculous amount of time to load up the image. My AT&T iPhone 5s loaded the image instantly. It’s pretty frustrating that I can’t take advantage of my unlimited Sprint data plan in my home city.
Another very important issue to consider is that the AT&T and T-Mobile iPhone 5s models are the only ones that feature simultaneous voice and data. The Sprint and Verizon versions cut off their data connections while they’re being used to place or receive voice calls. This can be a problem for people trying to collaborate on work or just plan where to meet someone for lunch. We’re hoping this issue will finally be resolved when Apple releases the iPhone 6 this fall.