If you're in the market for a brand new smartphone, you've no doubt at least considered what it'd be like to change phone carriers. It seems the grass is always greener in terms of network performance, but is it really? According to a new study by PCWorld, absolutely — in the fight for the best 3G and 4G data networks, there are clear winners and losers.
The study took a look at wireless service in 13 different cities across the U.S., from Boston to Los Angeles. Both 3G and 4G speeds (where possible) were tested on all four major carriers' networks: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
In the competition for the best 3G coverage, the clear winner was T-Mobile, with download speeds averaging 3.84mbps and upload speeds of 1.44mbps. AT&T came in a distant second (2.62/0.85), while Sprint fared worst (0.59/0.56). The study notes that for the most part, 3G speeds improved between 2011 and 2012 for everyone except users of Sprint, who saw a sharp decline.
The study found completely different winners when it looked at more modern fourth-generation data networks. Here, AT&T's LTE network was the clear winner in terms of downloading, boasting 4G speeds of 9.12mbps download versus Verizon's 7.35, T-Mobile's 5.53, and Sprint's miserably low 2.81mbps. When it came to uploads, it was Verizon's 4G network that came out on top, beating AT&T by a 5.86 to 4.91mbps margin. Again, Sprint fared worst in upload speeds at just 0.97mbps.
What does this study mean? Well, there's no good news here if you're a Sprint user, regardless of which phone you use — the company's 4G speed is actually worse than T-Mobile's 3G average. But if you're looking to buy what you hope is a 4G iPhone 5 later this year, there's terrific news for existing AT&T customers: Your 4G speed is clearly the best of the bunch. Of course, once that network starts getting battered by tens of millions of new iPhone users... well, anything could happen.
More from Tecca: