Mobile Broadband Speed TestMobile broadband carriers have vaulted into the top spot when it comes to market growth potential in recent years, and paying for them has become a major monthly expense for U.S. consumers. The challenge of winning the hearts and minds, and eyeballs, of mobile broadband customers has led service providers to crank up their marketing and business development machines, which makes sifting through and validating competing service and performance claims a challenge in itself.

PC World just released the results of a second annual survey of indoor and outdoor 3G and 4G wireless data transfer speeds for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon–the top four US wireless service providers– across multiple locations in 13 major cities.

A lot has changed in a year as far as U.S. wireless service goes, and mostly for the better, PC World found. Next-gen 4G wireless network services are being rolled out even as industry participants grapple to identify and act on ways to capitalize on their 4G investments.

In carrying out their research, PC World took snapshots of wireless service in 13 major US cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. with an eye towards finding out which of the four largest US wireless service providers were delivering on their marketing promises.

Net-net, T-Mobile won out in terms of both average download and upload speeds for wireless 3G services. AT&T turned out to be tops in terms of average wireless download speeds in the 4G category, while Verizon came out on top in terms of average 4G wireless upload speeds across the survey’s geographic range.

Wireless network operators on the whole are doing a good job keeping up with rapidly escalating wireless data traffic, PC World found, with average 3G speed having increased over the past year.

“Our research shows that the demand on mobile broadband networks is nearly doubling every year, so there is definitely no room to remain idle” said Dan Hays, U.S. advisory wireless leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which apparently conducted the study. “The results of this year’s PCWorld study clearly show that most wireless network operators are continuing to invest significantly in their 3G networks, adding capacity to ensure that speeds remain competitive.”

Looking at performance for individual carriers and cities, PC World found that:

  • AT&T’s new LTE network turned in the fastest download speeds of any 4G service. Its 3G service was very competitive, too–and those two results help make a strong case for AT&T dual-mode 3G/4G phones.
  • T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 21 service won in the 3G bracket of PC World’s study, and the carrier’s high-end HSPA+ 42 service competed reasonably well with other providers’ 4G service. In addition, T-Mobile’s service plans are more flexible and its prices are lower than those offered by competing carriers.
  • Verizon makes 4G service available in many more locations than other providers do, and its 4G upload speeds are top-of-the-line, but its 4G download speeds don’t match AT&T’s. And Verizon’s 3G speeds are not improving much, especially when compared to the competition.
  • Sprint was consistently a laggard in PC World’s wireless speed derby. The company seems to have virtually stopped developing its existing 3G and 4G networks while looking for a way to make the transition from its outdated WiMax 4G technology to LTE.

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