Verizon Wins NYC 4G Showdown, Sprint Dead Last

lead
New Yorkers are a demanding lot. And that includes expecting more from their wireless carriers. If they can’t share photos on Facebook and download games at the fastest speeds possible, they’ll get the itch to switch. And just because you can get a strong signal on Wall Street, that doesn’t mean you’ll see the same speeds in Central Park. That’s where we come in.

Laptop Mag took to the streets of Manhattan with a handful of smartphones to see which carrier has the best 4G LTE network in NYC.

After a lot of testing in eight locations, one network stood head and shoulders above the rest: Verizon Wireless. Yes, the same Verizon that admitted not long ago that it was capacity strained in big cities. And yet Big Red crushed AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. T-Mobile also turned in a strong performance, while AT&T finished in third. As for Sprint, let’s just say that its Spark service didn’t set the world on fire.

MORE: Best Smartphones 2014

Want a more in-depth look at how we tested and how your carrier performed? Check out our methodology and location-by-location results.

How We Tested

Testing spots were chosen based on their geographical location and popularity. We evaluated each phone at the same time to ensure no one carrier had the advantage of being used at off-peak hours. To measure the networks’ capabilities, we ran Ookla’s Speedtest Mobile app five times on each Galaxy S4 to get an average download and upload speed for every carrier at every site. If a handset couldn’t connect to Speedtest’s servers due to network communication issues, we recorded the results as 0 Mbps.

We then downloaded “Angry Birds,” a 44 MB file, on the four smartphones to measure the carriers’ real-world download speeds. We capped the download time for the app at 7 minutes, as any longer would be unreasonable for such a small file. Once we determined the average download and upload speeds and app download times for the carriers at each site, we averaged their individual results to calculate their overall performance in Manhattan.

The results are a snapshot of what the Big Four U.S. carriers can do in a densely populated, highly connected city of 1.6 million people. For now, there is only one carrier that can call itself the king of New York.

MORE: iPhone 6 Rumors: Inside Apple’s Next Big Thing

Editor’s Note: Wireless speeds can vary from block to block in an area like Manhattan, due to the interference caused by tall buildings. Our results provide an overview of what each carrier is capable of in various areas of the city.

FlatIron_1
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 3.5 Mbps 2.1 Mbps 8.6 Mbps 26.9 Mbps
Average Upload 0.4 Mbps 0.9 Mbps 12.5 Mbps 22.5 Mbps
App Download 2:20 4:42 1:13 0:25

We performed our first tests near Manhattan’s iconic Flatiron building at 23rd Street and Broadway. In a spot where Verizon customers previously saw download speeds of less than 1 Mbps, the carrier’s improved LTE AWS network averaged a blistering 26 Mbps down. T-Mobile’s relatively new LTE network performed relatively well, while AT&T’s connection was disappointingly slow, offering sub-4G speeds for both downloads and uploads. Sprint’s performance was even worse, despite our Galaxy S4 displaying one bar of Spark LTE. At least its upload speed was slightly higher than AT&T’s (900 Kbps vs 400 Kbps).

WallStreet
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 7.9 Mbps 0.7 Mbps 25.7 Mbps 39.6 Mbps
Average Upload 2.6 Mbps 0.9 Mbps 14.9 Mbps 21.9 Mbps
App Download 0:55 7:00 0:35 0:12

For our second test we took the 1 train down to Wall Street’s famous Charging Bull statue. With Wall Street to the right, the Freedom Tower to the left and Trinity Church in front of you, this is definitely a highly trafficked area. Verizon and T-Mobile performed exceptionally well here, with their downloads averaging 39.6 Mbps and 25.7 Mbps, respectively. AT&T’s numbers were in line with what you can expect from an average LTE connection, 7.9 Mbps downstream, while Sprint was, once again, extremely slow. In fact, we couldn’t even download “Angry Birds” on the network.

MORE: 5 Best Verizon Smartphones

TimeSquare
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 11.7 Mbps 1.6 Mbps 8.5 Mbps 15.1 Mbps
Average Upload 4.6 Mbps 0.9 Mbps 5.9 Mbps 21.3 Mbps
App Download 0:51 5:04 0:47 0:34

At The Crossroads of the World, Verizon once again bested the competition, though by a significantly smaller margin than at Wall Street and the Flatiron District. We recorded average download and upload speeds of 15.1 Mbps and 21.3 Mbps, respectively, on Big Red’s network, while AT&T’s download speeds averaged 11.7 Mbps and uploads hit 4.6 Mbps. T-Mobile turned in a higher average upload than AT&T (5.9 Mbps versus 4.6 Mbps) but a slower download. Sprint, again, fell to fourth place, with the carrier’s S4 taking nearly 9 times longer to download “Angry Birds” than Verizon’s device.

GrandCentral
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 2.7 Mbps 0.0 Mbps 2.8 Mbps 42.2 Mbps
Average Upload 1.2 Mbps 0.0 Mbps 1.5 Mbps 6.8 Mbps
App Download 5:18 7:00 3:10 0:13

Each day more than 750,000 commuters and other folks pass through Grand Central Station. One would hope that such a hub would offer strong 4G LTE coverage, but that wasn’t the case in our tests.

Only one carrier, Verizon (are you sensing a pattern?), provided solid connectivity, with downloads averaging a blistering 42.2 Mbps. That’s an incredible 14 times faster than the second fastest carrier, T-Mobile, which offered average downloads of 2.8 Mbps, and was slightly ahead of AT&T. Here’s another pattern. Sprint’s signal was so weak, our S4 couldn’t even connect to the Web to test the network’s speed.

MORE: 6 Best AT&T Smartphones

GuggenheimMuseum
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 5.8 Mbps 27.9 Mbps 4.5 Mbps 12.7 Mbps
Average Upload 3.8 Mbps 2.0 Mbps 0.8 Mbps 1.2 Mbps
App Download 1:20 0:18 1:04 0:35

The Guggenheim is well known for its striking exterior and a brief appearance in the “Men in Black” movie. And now it can add one more notch to its belt , as this was the only testing spot where Sprint outperformed the competition, with downloads on the carrier’s Spark network reaching 27.9 Mbps. That’s more than twice as fast as Verizon’s 12.7 Mbps and five times faster than T-Mobile’s 4.5 Mbps. AT&T’s 3.8 Mbps upload speed was best here.

CentralPark
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 1.3 Mbps 1.6 Mbps 6.1 Mbps 38.0 Mbps
Average Upload 0.3 Mbps 0.9 Mbps 5.0 Mbps 14.5 Mbps
App Download 3:53 7:00 1:06 0:12

The picturesque Bethesda Terrace and its fountain served as our Central Park testing spot. Located near the park’s horizontal midway point, the terrace is a frequent meeting point for visitors looking for a place to cool off during the warm summer months. If you want to surf the Web while you hang out, though, you better hope you don’t have AT&T or Sprint. Both networks offered sub-3G performance at this location, which meant Web pages took forever to load. T-Mobile was much more reliable in the park (above 5 Mbps for downloads and uploads), but Verizon was excellent, with downloads averaging 38 Mbps near the fountain.

GrantsTomb
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 13.6 Mbps 1.7 Mbps 20.3 Mbps 28.7 Mbps
Average Upload 6.3 Mbps 0.9 Mbps 20.2 Mbps 7.4 Mbps
App Download 0:37 4:21 0:43 0:17

Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? We’re not sure, but if you’re a Sprint user, you probably won’t be able to use your smartphone to look it up here. We recorded average download and upload speeds as slow as 1.7 Mbps and 0.9 Mbps, respectively, on the carrier’s 3G network. No LTE here. If you’re on AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon, you’ll have no problem figuring out the answer to this trick question, as each carrier offered downloads of 13 Mbps and higher, with Verizon taking the lead at 28.7 Mbps. T-Mobile offered the fastest upload speeds.

PennStation
  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 2.2 Mbps 0.0 Mbps 22.7 Mbps 53.7 Mbps
Average Upload 0.8 Mbps 0.0 Mbps 7.3 Mbps 17.6 Mbps
App Download 2:45 7:00 0:36 0:11

Pennsylvania Station is Manhattan’s second largest transit hub, serving more than 600,000 passengers daily. And if you’re a Verizon or T-Mobile customer, you’ll have plenty of bandwidth to browse the Web while you wait for yet another delayed train back to New Jersey. Both carriers broke 20 Mbps in the download department with Verizon averaging a mind-blowing 53.7 Mbps. That’s faster than most home Internet connections. If you’re on AT&T, you’ll see sluggish but workable speeds. Sprint came off the rails, as it couldn’t even connect to Speedtest or the Google Play store.

Overall Results

  att_1 sprint_2 t-mobile verizon
  AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Average Download 6.1 Mbps 4.5 Mbps 12.4 Mbps 32.1 Mbps
Average Upload 6.1 Mbps 0.8 Mbps 9.8 Mbps 14.2 Mbps
App Download 2:15 5:18 1:08 0:20
4g-speedtest-nyc-140318b
CLICK TO ENLARGE

Based on our testing, Verizon easily has the fastest network in Manhattan. Overall average download speeds reached 32 Mbps and downloads averaged 14.2 Mbps. Those speeds are far better than any of the other three carriers. In fact, Big Red’s downloads were twice as fast of the second place T-Mobile, which averaged 12.4 Mbps down across the city. T-Mobile also deserves credit for doubling AT&T’s download and upload speeds, which is a big deal considering its plans are cheaper. 

AT&T’s overall performance was solid but unspectacular; the carrier’s LTE Advanced upgrade should give the carrier a needed boost in this race. Sprint, on the other hand, couldn’t offer competitive Web speeds no matter where we connected. The sole exception was outside the Guggenheim, where it blitzed the competition. But winning one spot out of eight means Sprint has a ton of work to do to make Spark better.

To be clear, our testing represents a moment in time, and other carriers could up their game soon. Also note that Verizon’s great speed advantage applies only to smartphones that support its AWS technology. Right now, that’s about 30 percent of the device lineup, which includes the Samsung Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5c and 5s, the LG G2, the Motorola Droid Maxx and Moto X, and the Nokia Lumia Icon. (Most Verizon smartphones going forward will be AWS-compatible). Nevertheless, right now Verizon is the 4G king of NYC. And if you’re looking for fast speeds at a cheap price, T-Mobile is a great option .

As for Sprint, the carrier was obviously disappointed in its results. Kelly Schlageter, manager of corporate communications at Sprint, provided the following statement: “Sprint Spark is in the early stages of deployment in New York City, and so it’s not available everywhere. As the footprint fills in, we expect speeds to increase significantly. Sprint Spark is capable of delivering peak wireless peak data speeds of up to 60 Mbps today and potential speeds three times that fast by late 2015.”

AUTHOR BIO
Daniel P. Howley
Daniel P. Howley
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Daniel P. Howley on
Twitter Google+
LEAVE A REPLY
Name*
Email* (will not be published)
Website
*Indicates required field
Comments*
Submit Comments

  1. Chris Says:

    T-Mobile FTW! The best combination of price and performance plus no contract. Tough to beat that combo.

  2. Michael Samsara Says:

    Thank you Daniel for a very thorough article. Only suggestion I would make is why didn’t you mention at the beginning that you were comparing – at least to a certain degree – apples to oranges?

    I am referring to the fact that the Verizon phones you tested had AWS technology. Yes, I realize, that it is not Verizon’s fault the other carriers may not yet have this technology implemented, but it does – to a certain – actually great degree in my mind – invalidate the “blistering” speeds attributed to Verizon.

    Personally, and I live in NYC, given Verizon’s contract paradigm I wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. So, it was gratifying to see that T-Mobile compares favorably.

    When you factor in that the test wasn’t really saying what it appeared to be saying because you didn’t use devices with the same tech – they compare even more favorably.

  3. Michael Samsara Says:

    Thank you Daniel for posting my comment.

    I have one more suggestion. Why not – in the interests of fairness to the T-Mobile, AT&T and Spring – as well as to stop others from coming to fallacious conclusions – go back into the article and/or put a qualifier/disclaimer at the front end that let’s people know that and I quote from the last section:

    “To be clear, our testing represents a moment in time, and other carriers could up their game soon. Also note that Verizon’s great speed advantage applies only to smartphones that support its AWS technology…” end quote

    And even with Verizon ONLY 30 percent of their phones will yield the results you showed and claimed blew away the competition; results which one would naturally – mistakenly -assume and apparently unequivocally “prove” – because there was no pre-qualification going in of the fact that AWS was in play – in Verizon’s sole, singular favor – to the detriment of the other competitors whom, because this little point was omitted will be judged unfairly.

    I really am not trying to be a nit-picking, pain in the ass – though I realize I often am. I just really hate it when I read an entire article (unlike most probably who are in too big a rush, who will gloss over the minute details; think that Verizon actually is way, way better than they actually are (unless you happen to be lucky enough to have one of only the 3 our of 10 phones they offer that can yield your “blistering” results). Because, then I have to totally reorient my mind, delete data from my memory cells that would never have been written – if only I had know …”the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”! lol

    Anyway, and this is not just a sop – it really was an awfully good article and one I enjoyed – except for this little detail, which hardly makes no never mind!

  4. Alex Says:

    Are you 100% sure you were using a sprint “spark” updated device, none of your speeds indicate spark was being connected too. You can read this thread with ACTUAL Spark speeds in the areas you tested in!

  5. Shannon Says:

    This test is not too off and actually is quite accurate. I am Sprint subscriber and know for the fact there is no signal/ zero bar at NY Penn and Grand Central.

  6. Steve Says:

    NYC is not just Manhattan…

  7. Jefferson Ettienne Says:

    Ever heard of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx? They are part of NYC too. Manhattan, like the rest is a borough.

  8. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for doing these tests – I found the methodology and results quite compelling.

    And please ignore the nitpicky comments – grandma running her non-AWS phone won’t give two shits about data speeds.

  9. Don Uan Says:

    While tests like these can be interesting, I have high degree of certainty that the results vary greatly based upon chosen LOCATION. I have T-Mobile which by far seems to provide the best value speed/data allowance/Price – But you may not have been aware that Sprint’s networks have been temporarily downgraded during the time of your testing to UPGRADE to the SPARK technology which can get twice what Verizon is showing. Most major cities are nearly 100% on the SPARK so even this unscientific experiment would probably be vastly different now.

  10. James Phillips Says:

    Thank you so much. This test, along with an absolutely horrendous 3 HOUR call to AT&T’s nightmare customer service with a simple issue that none of them were capable of even understanding let alone solving, has decided for me. I am switching to Verizon. I have been with AT&T in New York for 12 years, 7 of those with a data plan. And let me tell you, their download speeds are atrocious. There are major areas of Manhattan in which it is virtually impossible to download anything with AT&T. Wall Street – the financial center of the world…data speed is non existent. I can’t even get my emails let alone load a webpage or download calendar info. It is disgusting, they are a disgrace to New York.

    After trying to take part in their iPhone upgrade trade-in promo, they botched the whole thing and I spent 3 hours being passed around from department to department and speaking to idiots who didn’t even understand the question and constantly put me on hold for 15+minutes. I have never had such a bad customer service experience in my entire life. Today was the end of my relationship with AT&T. If Verizon can provide me with the kind of speeds listed in this article, I will be very happy.

  11. Bid Says:

    What co provides the best cell coverage in Sutton place NY 10022
    Please

  12. Guest Says:

    Other boroughs please?

  13. Shaneequa Says:

    Change the tittle please from “NYC” to “Manhattan.” Do you realize that by definition NYC is more than Manhattan?

FIND A REVIEW
Laptops
All Product Types Accessories Cars Digital Camcorders Digital Cameras eReaders GPS Laptops MP3 & Video Players Projectors Smartphones Software Storage Tablets / MIDs VoIP Wi-Fi
All Subcategories
All Subcategories All-Purpose Budget Business Desktop Replacement Gaming Multimedia Netbook Nettop Rugged Student Tablet PCs Ultraportable
Brand
Acer Alienware Apple Archos ASUS Averatec BenQ CTL Corp. Dell Digital Storm eMachines Emtec Everex Fujitsu GammaTech Gateway General Dynamics Getac Gigabyte Hercules HP HTC iBuyPower Intel Lenovo MSI Nokia Nvidia OCZ OLPC OQO Origin Panasonic Sager Samsung Sony Sylvania Systemax TabletKiosk Toshiba Verizon Viewsonic Viliv VooDoo Workhorse PC ZT Systems
Minimum Rating
Any Rating 4.5 Stars 4.0 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.0 Stars
Screen Size
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 4 5 6 7 8 9
Resolution
1024x576 1024x600 1024x768 1200X800 1280 x 720 1280x1024 1280x768 1280x800 1366x678 1366x768 1440x1050 1440x900 1600x768 1600x900 1680x1050 1680x945 1920x1080 1920x1200 800x400 800x480
Weight Range
10.1 - 12.0 pounds 12.1 - 14.0 pounds 14.1 - 16.0 pounds 2 lbs 2 pounds and under 2+ lbs 2.1 - 4.0 pounds 4.1 - 6.0 pounds 6.1 - 8.0 pounds 8.1 - 10.0 pounds Over 16 pounds Under 2 pounds
more options
SUBSCRIBE