A typical question asked in the Brighthand forums goes something like this:
I’m thinking about getting a smartphone, but I’m confused about the different network options. Who has the fastest 3G network? Or would I be better off with Wi-Fi?
The wireless carriers in the U.S. use a range of network types.
Both Sprint and Verizon use a standard called EV-DO. It’s data transfer rate is usually 500 to 1000 Kbits per sec., peaking at 2 Mbps.
These carriers are in the process of upgrading their EV-DO networks from Revision 0 to Revision A, but the major speed increase is for uploading files. Download speed only gets about a 10% bump on Rev. A, but upload speed triples.
What about AT&T and T-Mobile?
AT&T uses a completely different 3G standard called HSDPA, which is one of reasons why phones created for one of the other carriers won’t work on AT&T’s network and vice versa. HSDPA has a theoretical data download speed twice that of EV-DO, but in practice speeds are similar, at least on current networks.
AT&T is in the process of adding HSUPA to its network, increasing upload speeds. Together these will be called simple HSPA.
Poor T-Mobile doesn’t have a 3G network at all. Its EDGE network runs around 80-120 Kbits on average, so EV-DO and HSDPA would be about 6-10 times faster. Still, it’s supposed to finally bring an HSDPA network online in summer of 2008.
3G vs. Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is only as fast as the connection you hook it to. That can be anywhere up to 50 megabits per sec., but more often 1 to 5 Mbps.
As I mentioned earlier, even under absolutely ideal conditions, EV-DO and HSDPA peak out at 2 mbps, so they are almost always noticeably slower than Wi-Fi. However, the coverage for cellular-wireless networks is a lot better unless you spend all your time in and around Wi-Fi hotspots.