iPhone Awards: Verizon's Reliable, AT&T's Fastest

Verizon Wireless takes the crown when it comes to call success rates for the iPhone 4S, but AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) beats both it and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) on data upload and download speeds, according to tests performed by Metrico Wireless Inc.

Metrico did its first round of tests back in March on the iPhone 4 with AT&T and Verizon. But, now that all three carriers have Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s latest 4s iPhone, the vendor spent the past month performing more than 21,000 Web-page downloads, 8,000 download/upload tests and 6,000 voice calls on real and simulated networks, stationary and in motion. (See AT&T Beats Verizon on iPhone Speed.)

Here are the most notable findings:

  • Verizon iPhones made and held calls successfully slightly more than its competitors' versions, with a 2.1 percent call failure rate, but AT&T beat out Sprint with a 2.8 percent call-failure rate compared to Sprint's 3.7 percent.
  • Amit Malhotra, VP of marketing at Metrico, says that the average dropped call rate for the industry is 1.4 percent, making the iPhone 4S a poor performer in general. It was worse than the average for Verizon's smartphones, but -- interestingly -- in the top three best for AT&T. Metrico is making no guesses as to why the differences occur, but Malhotra notes that, in general, new features and functionalities in phones could have an impact on core functionality.

  • Sprint's iPhone performed better on live network voice quality on the uplink, but AT&T was better on the downlink. Verizon lagged in both. (Metrico wasn't able to measure this back in March for AT&T versus Verizon, but it can now thanks to a new algorithm for cross-carrier speech quality analysis, Malhotra says.)
  • AT&T topped the pack for data upload and download speeds, and the iPhone 4S was significantly improved on data over the iPhone 4.
  • AT&T beat Sprint and Verizon on Web-browsing speeds. It also topped other smartphones in each carrier's portfolio, whereas the iPhone 4 was below average.

  • Data task reliability was near 100 percent for stationary downloads and uploads for all three carriers, which is a dramatic improvement over the iPhone 4 for AT&T and Verizon.
  • Videos performed well on all three networks, but YouTube Inc. videos caused the frame delivery rate to drop somewhat.

It appears all three carriers' marketing messages are spot on. While AT&T touts its data speeds, Verizon stresses that reliability trumps all else. Sprint, which didn't dominate its rivals in any performance category, instead promotes its status as the only unlimited carrier.

Metrico wouldn't go so far as to recommend which phone to buy, but Malhotra says the hope is that consumers use the numbers to pick their priorities and that handset makers and wireless operators use it to improve their shortcomings.

"We wouldn't be out to crown a single device the winner," Malhotra says. "We want to enable informed decisions on the part of subscribers. For carriers and OEMs, even though there are new features and functionalities rolling out, they can't forget about the core functions such as voice and data."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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