Comparing cell phone coverage providers

Consumers are persistently bombarded with cell phone ads. The ads usually focus on the cost, roll-over minutes, out of plan calling, network reliability or something similar. Anyone in the market for a cellular plan can collect details on the different plans and conclude which plan best fits their needs for cost and other benefits but how does someone gauge network/carrier reliability?

Last spring, PC World teamed up with Novarum, an independent wireless consulting firm, to conduct performance testing of the nation's three largest 3G carriers - Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. The team measured upload/download speeds and reliability of the three carriers from 20 fixed locations in 13 major U.S. cities. Reliability was loosely defined as service is available, had no interruptions and showed reasonable speed. In the end, more than 5,000 individual tests were run with PC World reporting the results in the September issue.

Verizon reportedly earned the top spot in average download speeds at 951Kbps. Along with that, the network also showed very good reliability at 89.8 percent of the testing locations with the eastern and central part of the U.S. being slightly better than the western area of the country.

Sprint had the highest reliability of the three networks clocking in at an impressive 90.5 percent reliability rating. That substantiates the carrier's claim of "Most Dependable Network" and is due largely to the fact, of the three carriers, Sprint has the highest number of base stations on the ground.

The third carrier, AT&T, had reasonable upload/ download speeds but took a serious hit in the reliability department. The network was reliable in only 68 percent of the testing locations, which is reflected in the company's recent activity to make significant improvements to its infrastructure and make the switch to a different 3G technology.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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