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