While mobile-phone companies talk about crazy fast speeds using a barrage of techno jargon, real-world questions about dropped calls and text-message speeds often go unanswered.
Yesterday, a study was released showing that among the four major wireless carriers, Verizon repeated as fastest for text, data and voice speed in the Columbus market.
RootMetrics, an independent mobile measurement company, also looked at data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
"Performance was pretty equal to other marketplaces," said Bill Moore, CEO of RootMetrics.
Verizon's biggest advantage came in downloading and uploading data --in other words, using a smartphone to access the Internet. Verizon's average upload speed was so good, in fact, that it was faster than the maximum upload speeds of the other carriers.
The survey results are "a testament to the efforts of our local network engineers," Verizon officials said.
"Once again, a respected third-party study highlights the benefits of our ongoing network investments for our customers," said Mark Frazier, president for Verizon's Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia region.
The good news for the other three companies is that in categories including texting speed and reliability of voice calls, Verizon's performance wasn't significantly different from that of its three major competitors.
The differences today tend to come down to the way individuals use their phones and not the carriers themselves, said Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst.
"The wireless industry has grown and improved over the last decade," he said. "Customers had a lot of problems a decade ago. Today they don't. They have some problems, but in general the carriers are equal. They all have good quality voice, good quality Internet and good quality texting."
Verizon began rolling out its 4G LTE network in Columbus and other parts of Ohio in December 2010, ahead of its rivals. Both AT&T and Sprint will fully roll out the faster network this year, and T-Mobile will fully upgrade in 2013. Usually referred to as the next generation of wireless technology, 4G LTE is supposed to be much faster and more reliable than previous technology.
"That's the game changer," Moore said. "Data is where things are going to dramatically change in Columbus in the near future."
That is what AT&T officials are counting on. Spokeswoman Holly Hollingsworth said that "from 2009 to 2011, we invested more than $1.4 billion in our Ohio wireless and wireline networks, and we'll continue investing in order to give our customers the best possible experience."
Similarly, T-Mobile, which launched some 4G service locally in July 2010, "has continued to invest heavily in the Columbus network, bringing more than 130 cell sites online with 4G service and covering a large portion of the Columbus area," spokesman Juan Cornejo said in an email.
Sprint spokeswoman Candace Johnson said the study's results "don't match exactly what we have seen in other third-party tests," and that Sprint's own internal testing shows that the company "ranks as a very competitive network."
In an odd finding, there was a huge disparity in the amount of time it took to receive a text. Verizon recorded the fastest overall time, at 3.6 seconds, while Sprint finished last with a time of 43.0 seconds.
"What is happening is, when we do text testing, we send a text to another phone," Moore said. "Normal consumer behavior might be a one-to-one texting conversation, but a teenager often has three or four text conversations going on at the same time, and some networks reset the delivery time to handle that. We weight the most value on one-to-one texting, but we do give some value on two, three or four texts."
Since Sprint sometimes will reset delivery time for multiple text conversations, it is not surprising that the carrier suffered in that area, he said.
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