Data downloads and Web browsing on new LTE-ready smartphones were slightly faster on AT&T's new 4G LTE network than on the far more widely spread 4G LTE network of rival Verizon, according to a study released Tuesday by by Metrico Wireless.
Still, the study found that average LTE download speeds topped 10 Mbps on each network, while the speed of data downloads and Web browsing performance were five times faster on 4G LTE than on the 3G networks of the respective carriers, Metrico said.
Metrico conducted more than 24,000 tests in three cities using two new LTE smartphones on AT&T's network and three LTE smartphones on Verizon's, said Amit Malhotra, Metrico vice president of marketing, in an email.
The AT&T LTE network currently serves 15 cities, while Verizon's LTE network is now in 179 U.S. cities.
Video and battery performance varied the most. Metrico found that the individual smartphone, rather than the carrier, was most responsible for those differences.
Metrico, which measures device performance for wireless carriers, said that the study found that both carriers were "comparable" on data download speeds -- the average performance on all five tested devices exceeded 10 Mbps.
The HTC Vivid on AT&T's LTE network had the top download speed --39.5 Mbps -- while the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket on AT&T got the highest average download speed -- 14Mbps -- over repeated tests.
The fastest single download on the Verizon LTE was 33.5 Mbps on the HTC ThunderBolt, while the fastest average download speed was 11.3 Mbps on the Motorola Droid Bionic. Samsung Droid Charge had an average download speed of 10.8 Mbps over Verizon's LTE, Metrico said.
Web page load times were also "comparable" for all five smartphones tested across the two networks, according to the stody.
On the AT&T network, Web page downloads using an HTC Vivid device took an average of 1.10 seconds while the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket took an average of 0.92 seconds to load a standard Web page. Meanwhile, Metrico said the HTC ThunderBolt took 1.42 seconds to load a Web page, the Samsung Droid Charge took 1.58 seconds and the Motorola Droid Bionic took 1.14 seconds on the Verizon LTE network.
While the LTE network was a factor in data download and Web browsing speeds, the significant differences in video performance could be traced mostly to the device, Metrico said.
The Samsung Droid Charge on Verizon showed the highest frame delivery rate, while the Motorola Droid Bionic on the same network showed the lowest frame delivery rate of the five models tested, Metrico noted. "Onboard device attributes--including video processor and rendering software--play a key role in the [smartphone] subscriber's video experience," Metrico said in the report.
Metrico found that variances in battery life depended on the application being used as well.
The Skyrocket on AT&T showed longer battery life than the Bionic on Verizon when using email, SMS, Web browsing and video streaming, but it lagged significantly when it came to using traditional circuit-switched voice calling, Metrico said.
The Droid Bionic on Verizon's network got an estimated 700 minutes of voice calling time, while the AT&T-based Skyrocket got about 390 minutes.
Streaming video got an estimated battery life of 220 minutes on the Skyrocket, compared to 170 minutes on the Droid Bionic. Battery life testing was not done on the other three devices.
For the Droid Bionic and Skyrocket, battery testing was conducted in multiple locations in one city, Malhotra said. Power consumption was measured at 5,000 samples per second for different applications then extrapolated over the battery capacity that device manufacturer stated.
Metrico was circumspect about its conclusions of the testing, and said it will conduct further analysis.
Metrico noted in the report that a subscriber's experience is not dependent solely on the network or the device, "but by the combination of the two" -- a realization faced by many smartphone users. "Even devices with similar specifications connected to similar network technologies still demonstrate variation in performance, underscoring the criticality of measuring performance at the subscriber level," the report said.
Many analysts and users have long noticed how a single crowded cell tower can bog down performance. Metrico's findings also show that processor power, the battery used and other specs on a smartphone can be inconclusive when compared to a user's real-world experience.
Still, Malhotra said the study does show that with a fivefold improvement in LTE performance over 3G, "the promise of 4G LTE is being delivered by both carriers."
He added that in coming months, users will take data speeds on smartphones for granted, shifting their focus to video quality and battery life, where "there tends to be more variation in performance among devices and the faster data performer does not necessarily provide the best overall experience."
Verizon is much further alongwith its LTE rollout than AT&T, but also had two interruptions in LTE service in 2011, including one in December , that forced users on LTE back to 3G speeds for a time.
AT&T and Verizon did not respond to a request to comment on the study.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
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