Who has the best 3G coverage?

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Who has the best 3G coverage?

One of the most common questions from anyone wanting to use mobile broadband is "Who has the best 3G coverage?" The 3 biggest providers of 3G mobile broadband are Sprint (EVDO), Verizon (EVDO), and AT&T (HSPA). Alltel also has EVDO coverage in select areas, but isn't a national competitor (and was recently purchased by Verizon). Determining coverage for mobile broadband in the areas you need service is one of the biggest factors in getting the best performance possible.

Before there was 3G, all three of these carriers operated 2G mobile broadband networks that offered download and upload speeds averaging around 75-150kbps, and they have each been upgrading their networks to the 3G standard with varying degrees of urgency. There is a BIG difference between the performance you'll see on a carrier's 2G network and what you can achieve on the 3G networks. For Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel, EVDO Rev-A can provide typical speeds 600Kbps-1,400Kbps Download (with bursts to 2.0Mbps) and 500Kbps-800Kbps Upload (with bursts to 1.8Mbps), and AT&T's 3G network offers typical download speeds of 700-1700kbps and 500-1200kbps upload.

3G coverage from any of these providers is generally easy to find in major cities. Equipping a tower in the middle of a city is an easy decision for the provider as one tower can serve hundreds or even thousands of people. As you get further away from cities, however, AT&T's 3G coverage falls off sharply even where Verizon and Sprint EVDO coverage remains very strong. For people that travel and want the best possible coverage across the country we have found that Verizon and Sprint are the best choices, with Verizon offering slightly better coverage than Sprint since their purchase of Alltel. Sprint, Verizon and AT&T all have coverage in most major cities, but its when you get outside of major metropolitan areas that Verizon really shines. Rural California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and the west in general have much better Verizon coverage than from any other carrier.

Verizon has even published a map comparing their coverage to AT&T's

Verizon 3G/EVDO vs AT&T 3G/HSDPA

This is not to say that AT&T is not a good solution for some users. If you only need mobile broadband in one location and have confirmed that AT&T has 3G coverage there, or only travel to major metropolitan areas (where AT&T likely has good coverage), AT&T can work very well.

If you are going to use mobile broadband in a few specific locations and would like to see who offers service there, we have created a tool that allows you to easily compare coverage between Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon: Alltels coverage maps are not nearly as easy to use nor do they have us much detail, but they can be found here:

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 September 2009 )
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