My comparison of iPhone 4 on AT&T and Verizon

Discussion in 'iPhone' started by Travisimo, Feb 10, 2011.

  1. Travisimo, Feb 10, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011

    Travisimo macrumors 6502a

    Dec 22, 2009
    Preliminary Comments:
    I'm not going to bash or cheerlead either network. I am not loyal to any one carrier and I bought both of my iPhone 4's at full retail price. I will be using them both side by side for the next week or so and then returning one of them. Without concrete data regarding which network is better in my area, using them both seemed like the best discovery tool.

    There's no doubting that both phones are nearly identical. Aside from a few minor cosmetic differences (placement of the antenna notches and the lack of a SIM car slot on Verizon), they look the same. Regarding software, the only difference to note is the addition of Personal Hotspot (will talk about this later). Otherwise, if it weren't for the differences in networks, you're using the exact same phone. I love the iPhone 4, no matter which carrier it's on!

    Speed tests:
    Everyone likes to compare speed tests because it's probably the easiest and quickest way of comparing network speeds. Let's just get this out of the way: AT&T's network is much faster than Verizon when you compare them side by side in an area where coverage and signal is very good. In my area (the Quad Cities, which borders IL and IA), both carriers have very good 3G coverage. There are some dark spots on AT&T where I don't get a signal, whereas on Verizon I have not. And Verizon seems to penetrate better in buildings, including my workspace where I like to stream audio. However, most of the time, signal strength is very good on both.

    In my home, I am always on WIFI but it was a good place to start testing, so I turne WIFi off. 4 bars on Verizon, 5 bars on AT&T - both very steady:

    Test # / Carrier / Download / Upload / Ping
    1 / AT&T / 3490 / 1655 / 229
    1 / Verizon / 1595 / 301 / 304

    2 / AT&T / 2059 / 1687 258
    2 / Verizon / 533 / 304 / 235

    3 / AT&T / 2294 / 1668 / 1894
    3 / Verizon / 1162 / 285 / 255

    4 / AT&T / 2143 / 1642 / 263
    4 / Verizon / 1130 / 365 / 300

    I will throw out the two anomalies, which were 533 down on Verizon test 2, and the 1894 ping at AT&T Test 3. On average, I am getting 2-3 mbps downloads on AT&T and just over 1 mbps downloads on Verizon. On average, I'm getting 1.5 mbps uploads on AT&T and 300 kbps uploads on Verizon. Pings were surprisingly very similar.

    ANALYSIS: AT&T is much faster in overall throughput, though 1 mbps download is plenty fast for just about everything except HD video streaming. Upload speeds are also faster on AT&T, though normally this is less important.

    Webpage Loading:
    Now what everybody really wants to know is how they perform when doing real-world things like loading webpages. So I sat them side-by-side again and starting loading up a variety of websites - both mobile and full. I made sure to include sites that had not been previously loaded on either device.

    ANALYSIS: In almost every test, there were two noticeable trends. 1) websites typically starting appearing first on Verizon, and 2) websites typically finished loading first on AT&T, particularly full sites. With mobile sites and lighter websites, Verizon had a slight advantage as the websites would actually start to appear very slightly sooner. On heavier sites, AT&T would finish first (sometimes MUCH sooner) while Verizon continued to load.

    So in actual practice, what does this mean? It means there really isn't much difference between the networks when loading websites. Even during those times when Verizon was still loading, typically almost everything was already visible and it was just finishing loading some images, etc.

    When viewing Youtube videos, I had to test with both the included app and the mobile webapp via Safari. With the former, there really wasn't a whole lot of difference as the video is usually downgraded to lower bitrate and more compression. Both AT&T and Verizon performed well here, and video quality was decent but not exceptional.

    When using the Youtube webapp, you are given the option of turning on HD mode which makes the videos look considerably better. This is where AT&T threw down the gauntlet and made Verizon squirm. In almost every case, the AT&T video would start playing almost immediately and the buffer would fill much more quickly than the play rate. Conversely, the Verizon video would often take MANY seconds to even start playing (a circular hourglass would appear) and once it did, it often stopped and had to re-buffer during a video.

    ANALYSIS: If you plan to use 3G to do a lot of streaming video, then AT&T has the clear advantage. For light streaming, Verizon will be fine. Of course, if you are on a capped data plan on AT&T, those HD videos will eat through a LOT of bandwidth, so keep that in mind! On verizon, you won't get great HD video streaming, but you won't have to worry about bandwidth (until they start throttling you if you are a heavy user, however).

    Calls and Coverage:
    Of course, this is going to be highly dependent on your location. I use Google Voice for calls and texts and have not run into any problems using it with either device. Quality seems identical. As I mentioned, there are a few trouble spots in my area on AT&T where I don't get a signal. And in my workplace, I have noticed AT&T dropping down to Edge several times when I am streaming audio while working. Sometimes this requires me to restart the audio. I have not had that problem on Verizon as it gets a decent signal even deep inside the building. If I were in an area with poor AT&T coverage, then the decision would be easy and I would go with Verizon. But with just a few trouble spots and overall good coverage, the decision is harder.

    Carrier Plans/Differences:
    Here are the major differences I've discovered when comparing both phones and carriers:

    - AT&T has better throughput, including the ability to stream HD video quite well.
    - Verizon has slightly better latency, which translates into slightly quicker network starts
    - AT&T has simultaneous voice & data which is nice when looking things up or using navigation
    - Verizon has more consistent coverage with fewer deadzones and better building penetration (in my area)
    - AT&T has rollover minutes and the recently announced mobile to mobile on any carrier feature if you have an unlimited text plan
    - Verizon has unlimited data for new and existing subscribers (for now)
    - AT&T has grandfathered unlimited for existing (but no tethering) but has a 2GB cap for new (or tethering users)
    - Verizon has the Personal Hotspot feature with 2GB of data, AT&T has not announced it for iPhone yet
    - If AT&T does get Hotspot, you'll be able to use 4GB of pooled data for phone and tethering

    The conclusion is that I still can't decide which phone to keep and which one to return! I am definitely going to want tethering because that Personal Hotspot feature is awesome! So when comparing the two, the main differences lie between AT&T's faster network, and Verizon's better coverage and data/tethering plan options.

    But then there's also long-term prospects. All indications point to an iPhone 4S/5 being released this summer like usual. But we don't know if it will be on both carriers, or if Verizon customers will have to wait? And while it will probably be HSPA+, it will almost certainly NOT be LTE. However, LTE is probably coming sooner to Verizon customers than AT&T, so when the iPhone 6 comes out in 2012, I'm thinking Verizon customers might have an advantage.

    I guess the best thing (as a frequent upgrader who almost always wants the latest thing) to do is NOT be loyal to any one carrier and just buy your phones off-contract. In this way, you can just upgrade anytime you want and switch carriers if you need to. Given that iPhones resell for a pretty good price, you can normally get a good portion of your money back anyway (though we don't know how well the CDMA version will hold up in resell value).

    All in all, I'm just going to continue using them both a while longer. If AT&T announces the Personal Hotspot with the iPhone 4 and 4Gb of pooled data, that just might tip me towards the AT&T side. Hopefully, we'll find out before my 30-day return window is up!
  2. Cubsfan macrumors member

    Jun 19, 2007
    Do both carriers let you go off contract if you buy the phone outright? I thought that for some reason that AT&T would require a contract even if you brought your own iPhone (i.e. bought it in another country). I certainly could be wrong though.
  3. Travisimo thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Dec 22, 2009
    If you want an AT&T iPhone off-contract, you have to buy it in-store. Online, the only option is a 2-year contract. I bought my iPhone 4 (16GB) for $600 just a week ago by walking into the AT&T store. No contract. HOWEVER, you cannot get a FAN discount if you don't sign a contract. If you already have a FAN discount and your contract runs out, you can keep the discount. But if you start service with AT&T off-contract, then you can't get the discount.

    But yes, you can buy the iPhone 4 off-contract with either carrier right now. I have no idea about internationally, but this is true at least in the USA.
  4. nosser macrumors regular


    Jan 25, 2005
    Orange County California
    Good stuff... LTE for AT&T will turn on by June and they will finish about the same time as Verizon. so there isn't much of an advantage. The entire Att network is 100% upgraded to HSPA+ now and the mobile hotspot will include iPhone and that is set for about the 14th of this month. If the coverage is good for Att I would choose that personally but not with iP4. I'd wait for the HSPA+ version. I live in a good Att area so it's different for me. I did meet with the HTC Rep and his speed tests on Att's 4G network were 10-15mbps!
  5. mpossoff macrumors 68020

    Mar 21, 2010
    I get a pretty good FAN discount now probably better than most. I would like to get a new iPhone every launch.

    I should have probably planned this better as I would like to get iPhone every launch. I would buy off contract, full retail.

    This is the situation in a family plan.

    Total of 4 lines
    3 non smartphones, 1 iPhone 4(non primary)
    Primary line is a non smartphone
    3 non smartphones contract ends August 2011(primary line included)
    1 iPhone 4 contract ends August 2012

    What's the best avenue to take to keep FAN discount, and be able to get new iPhone or iPhones at every launch?
  6. Big D 51 macrumors 6502a

    Big D 51

    Jan 15, 2011
    Mobile, AL
    Good read. I purchased a Verizon iPhone today and comparing the two myself. So far I have notice everything you have already put. Voice/reception is definitely better for me.
  7. Travisimo thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Dec 22, 2009

    I took both of my phones to another part of town at a restaurant and did about 5 speed tests again. This time, the Verizon iPhone had 5 full bars of reception whereas the AT&T had 4 bars. However, the Verizon speed tests were only getting 300-500 kbps downloads whereas the AT&T phone got 1.5-2 mpbs. This was strange to me since the Verizon was actually getting full bars... but that's a big drop from the 1+ mbps I was getting at home.

    Will continue testing...
  8. tmill56 macrumors newbie

    Apr 23, 2009
    cool, thanks for the comparison, i have had 3 versions of the att iphone 3g, 3gs and iphone 4, while it is faster on the data for me too my never verizon version works better for call signal (most important to me but i understand not everyone) both are great devices just depends on what matters most to yoiu and where you live.
  9. Nuc, Feb 10, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011

    Nuc macrumors 6502a


    Jan 20, 2003
    I used to get higher speeds when I went to ATT from Verizon in June 2009. However, the past 9 months the speed has been really slow. After switching back today, Verizon is faster than ATT on average so I don't see any performance hit. Goodbye ATT! I can hear you now!

    Edit: I'm not sure if it is me but I don't think speed test is correct. When I got my wifes iPhone on Monday I got faster speeds with ATT but when surfing her iPhone was quicker to load and finish. Not sure if I truly believe the speed test results.
  10. smithrh macrumors 68020


    Feb 28, 2009
    Citation for this, please.

    AT&T doesn't have a 4G network yet. I'm assuming this was HSPA+ instead.

    I too am looking forward to HSPA+ as I'm AT&T, but I may wait until there's an LTE iPhone on Verizon to upgrade, we'll see.
  11. mpossoff macrumors 68020

    Mar 21, 2010
    AT&T can literally change to hspa+ overnight cause of their network. It is said that hspa+ will be faster than Verizon's '4g/LTE'.

    Since AT&T can become completely hspa + almost overnight and fast the coverage would blow Verizon '4g/LTE' away. All the blue with expansion in the map compared to Verizon's dark red '4g/LTE' coverage.

    Is AT&T going this route and focusing on this route? I hope so.
  12. iFitz macrumors regular

    Jul 15, 2008
    Same here. Did a comparison with a co-worker. Speeds test were much slower on the V iPhone compared to the AT&T iPhone, but when loading same pages at same time, the V iPhone loaded pages marginally faster.
  13. Krevnik macrumors 68040


    Sep 8, 2003
    For data like web, it isn't just the throughput that matters, but the average latency. A single page will make your browser hit a good dozen URLs if not more, and load them as it discovers them. Good consistent latency can beat out good throughput if the throughput isn't matched with good latency as well.
  14. themadrussian macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2010
    They've already upgraded nearly 100% of their 3G network to HSPA+.
  15. mpossoff macrumors 68020

    Mar 21, 2010
    Makes sense if numbers are close. However Travisimo's update AT&T speeds blew Verizon away. AT&T: 1.5-2 compared to Verizon: 300-500 kbps.

    If both were close then latency may play a role. Even with higher latency with those numbers I'm positive AT&T would load webpages much faster.
  16. scaredpoet macrumors 604


    Apr 6, 2007

    Bars don't tell the whole story, neither on AT&T nor Verizon.
  17. kre62 macrumors 68020

    Jul 12, 2010
    From what I understand the bars only represent voice stength via snr. Data will vary regardless of bars. I've gotten 3-4mbps with 0 bars before, so that would support that conclusion.
  18. mpossoff, Feb 10, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011

    mpossoff macrumors 68020

    Mar 21, 2010
    Again latency shouldn't play a role with Travisimo's numbers cause AT&T speed was considerably and significantly faster.

    Let's say with those numbers AT&T ping was 400 and Verizon 110 would both load web equally? I would take a guess no.

    However if speeds were the same or close with AT&T ping @ 400 and Verizon @ 110 I would expect Verizon to load faster with web.

    I get lower ping with Droid x usually about 1/2 compared to AT&T iPhone. When speeds are close Verizon loads faster. That's when speeds are close which isn't often. When AT&T speeds are 2-3x faster even with higher ping AT&T always wins.
  19. Apollo 13 macrumors 6502a

    May 29, 2010
    I get speeds from 1.5-2.5Mbps and AT&T and even seen it as high as 5Mbps. On verizon I get about 1Mbps but I haven't did a lot of test like I did with the AT&T phone. My Sprint Evo gets .50-85Mbps and use to get 1.85Mbps but I think all the Evo customers made my speeds go lower. I get the same amount of bars in my house on all 3 phones which is 4-5 bars but the Sprint Evo usually stays at 5.
  20. jnyost macrumors newbie

    Feb 10, 2011
  21. UofM Canes! macrumors newbie

    Jun 24, 2010
    I think you mentioned in your first post that you like to stream audio. This is my concern...I am on AT&T and stream a lot of Internet radio. AT&T service is very spotty for me, so I am considering making the switch but I am curious on how Verizon's network handles this task.

    Any feedback would be appreciated.
  22. mpossoff macrumors 68020

    Mar 21, 2010
    So I assume the expansion projected by March 31st 2011 will include hspa+?

    Now do you need a device compatible to hspa+?
  23. Travisimo thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Dec 22, 2009
    I'm happy to note that audio streaming works flawlessly on the Verizon iPhone even when my speed tests were in the lower range (300-500 kbps). As I mentioned in my original post, I do a lot of audio streaming in my workplace which is deep inside a building. On AT&T, sometimes it switches over to Edge and my audio will drop for a second or two, whereas on the Verizon, I was able to stream consistently.

    Audio streaming does not take a lot of throughput, but the consistency will be more important, so I'd say the Verizon iPhone will be idea for this considering you have unlimited data and better coverage (at least in my area).

    No worries!
  24. Krevnik macrumors 68040


    Sep 8, 2003
    I was responding to iFitz's comment, not Travisimo's. If he was getting faster web page loading on Verizon versus AT&T with those numbers I'd be a bit surprised, but it'd comment more on my own lack of data on exactly how much latency there is in loading a real, complex webpage.

    Loading a web page is not exactly a simple thing, and comparing across browsers (or different versions of the same rendering engine) isn't always an apples to apples comparison. There are lots of places where latency can hit rendering. If you need the result of a URL you parsed in the main HTML in order to render an element, you get hit with the latency of both fetches as if they were serial rather than parallel. Example: 5KB page with an 50KB image in it.

    Let's do: 200ms ping @ 2Mbit, 100ms ping @ 1Mbit.

    200ms x 2 + (440kbit data / 2000kbit throughput) = 0.62 seconds
    100ms x 2 + (440kbit / 1000kbit) = 0.64 seconds

    As you adjust the number of files, account for the staggered nature of the fetches happening, the real ping and throughput, one will beat the other in some situations. Raw high data rates work best for streaming large blobs of data. Latency becomes much more important when you have to make lots of requests or acknowledgements to data sent. But there is no hard and fast rule as to which is more important, it depends on the type of data you send. In the case of the OP's numbers, AT&T clearly won. I was trying to explain iFritz's observations as to why one might see higher test numbers but still be slower in real world situations like a browser.
  25. creeman macrumors 6502

    Oct 15, 2007
    I've been toying with the idea of switching to Verizon because of the service in my area (Galesburg, IL), but think I will stick with AT&T. The 3G service up in the cities and down in Peoria is great and fast, and I am in both of the areas quite often, so I can deal with the slow Edge network in Galesburg I suppose. But my mom just got an iPhone 4 on Verizon and it definitely loads pages faster than my iPhone 4 on the poor edge network :(

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