Jan. 12, 2011 at 7:48 PM ET
Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, attendees prayed for good wireless bandwidth for their smart phones and laptops. An independent study from RootMetrics says that T-Mobile customers got lucky with the fastest connection, while Verizon Wireless customers had the "most reliable" 3G network. Meanwhile, 3G customers on AT&T and Sprint suffered from relatively poor reliability.
Though the report (here in PDF) contains many a chart and infographic, the one I selected above represents the most common and crucial bandwidth scenario: downloads. The tests ran from Thursday Jan. 6 through Sunday Jan. 9, and the above graph compiles all of the data, not just a single day's worth. As you can see, both AT&T and T-Mobile have highest peaks, but they also were the most impacted by traffic during peak hours.
As for comparison studies, here's a bit of fascinating data for would-be iPhone switchers:
Verizon showed the most reliable performance throughout the event with very consistent data scores that recorded access failure rates at less than 10 percent each day, with three out of four days recording data access failures of less than 2 percent. AT&T’s 3G network measured an overall 89 percent data failure rate during the first day ... Day two was similarly challenging for AT&T ... AT&T’s network failed 26 percent of the time in data uploads and 31 percent in downloads.
If the vast number of busy iPhones in show-goers pockets are to blame for the high AT&T failure rates, I am sure current and future Verizon customers hope the trend doesn't persist as the phone moves to its second U.S. carrier.
Many at CES, including your beloved msnbc.com correspondent crew, were dependent on wireless data. Though we were mostly at the Venetian complex, too far from Root's test module at the Las Vegas Convention Center to corroborate, we did experience similar results. I used T-Mobile's myTouch 4G Android phone as a personal hotspot and got decent speeds for the most part, but it did tend to crap out at peak hours. Our sole Verizon MiFi was definitely the go-to device when every other connection was tapped.
The only difference we had with Root's findings was with Sprint 4G. Root says Sprint earned the fastest and most reliable titles in the 4G category, because it didn't get affected by peak traffic like T-Mobile's 4G network. But as someone who carried a Sprint Overdrive much of the week, I can only say that I never saw this reliability. At times when I needed it, the Overdrive failed me. I trust Root's findings, but there's always a point where even the most well designed tests don't match real-world experience. [RootMetrics; Root iPhone coverage map app - iTunes link]