Benchmarking my Verizon iPhone 5 on AT&T

Background

AT&T and Verizon are the two largest wireless providers in the US, and their respective marketing focuses on differentiation. 

Apple’s iPhone 4s was their first handset built to work on all US carriers, supporting CDMA (Verizon, Sprint) and GSM (AT&T, TMobile). In the US, customers typically “buy” phones with 2-year contracts, the wireless carrier subsidizes the cost of the phone (e.g. $649 unlocked vs. $199 carrier-locked), and charges an early termination fee if the customer does not fulfill their 2-year commitment:

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 11.12.17 AM

My Story

I purchased my iPhone 5 unlocked, but currently use Verizon wireless.  I divorced AT&T over issues providing coverage to my iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, and wanted to share is my brief reconsideration of their network — which, I admit, is an apples vs oranges comparison (no pun intended). Others have written more detailed analysis of the technologies, transition, and how to switch SIM cards, so I won’t repeat that.

This week, Verizon announced a faster Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network, called XLTE. While both AT&T and Verizon support LTE, they use different frequencies; a Verizon iPhone that supports LTE will not work on AT&T’s LTE network, but will work on AT&T’s HSPA+ network.

My Verizon iPhone 5  has and uses a SIM card, when it’s installed my Settings -> About looks like this:

IMG_2793

 Using the Speedtest app for iOS at my home in San Diego, I got the following results:

IMG_2790

35ms ping, 14.06 mbps download, 4.27 mbps upload — pretty respectable.

How does one test a Verizon iPhone 5 on AT&T? I went to a corporate AT&T store, and purchased a prepaid SIM with 1 month of unlimited voice, text, and 2.5GB of data for $60. A Verizon iPhone with an AT&T SIM card:

att-sim

IMG_2791

 

So despite naming it “Verizon iPhone”, my iPhone 5 is using the AT&T HSPA+ 4G network, and the latest baseband firmware. When I first purchased the SIM card, I ran a quick Speedtest from the parking lot:

IMG_2711

117 ms ping time, 6.66 Mbps download, 1.08 Mbps upload. I tried again a few minutes after running the Verizon Speedtest above, and here were my results:

IMG_2792

97 ms ping time, 9.02 Mbps download, 1.18 Mbps upload. Better, but not great.

Conclusion

This is a very unscientific test, not intended to compare AT&T and Verizon’s network overall, but to compare the experience using an unlocked Verizon iPhone 5 on the AT&T network. Given the changes in both carrier’s family plan pricing, we briefly considered keeping our phones but switching carriers. Even if there is a slight cost savings, I’ll gladly pay more for 1/3 the latency, 2x the download speed, and 4x the download speed.