So... What if I Actually DO Have Sprint LTE?

6/05/2013 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments

If you read a lot of phone reviews like I do, you might notice a common thread for any reviews of Sprint phones. It always goes something like "The phone is great, but the area we tested it in had abysmal Sprint signal, so it's hard to recommend."
Yes, Sprint LTE is not yet widespread and if you don't have it, you probably have painfully slow 3G (if that), but what if you-like I do-live somewhere blanketed by Sprint 4G goodness?  I had the privilege of watching the Chicago market get the Sprint Network Vision treatment from start to finish (some areas are still being polished), so I'm going to share what I saw during the process and what my experience is now, so if you are in an area with Network Vision completed (or in process, or about to start), you will have an idea of what to expect other than the complete dismissal of the network as you will read in most reviews.

The issue at this point is-if you travel a lot-you are likely to come across quite a few areas where you won't have coverage.  That is changing in many places (some faster than others).  I get around the Chicago area a lot and make frequent trips up to Madison, WI and out to Ft. Wayne, IN.  I get nearly solid LTE from the far south suburbs nearly all the way up north to the Wisconsin border.  I also get LTE through into Indiana about near Gary.  I have recently started seeing a flickering of LTE in both Madison and Ft. Wayne.  It's slow moving, but it's progressing.

It will continue to improve (the nationwide roll out is scheduled to be completed in around a year), but once it's done, will it be worth it?

All the tests below are done on a Sprint HTC One.  The HTC One has phenomenal radios and I get 1-3 Mbps faster download speeds on it than I did on my Sprint Galaxy Nexus, which did not have good radios.  I've seen similar speeds on the HTC EVO LTE, so the speed tests below will show what you can reasonably expect from the network.


Slow (or practically nonexistent) Sprint 3G speeds have been a compliant of many people for far longer than the absence of 4G has.  The good news is that coverage of 3G is expanding and speeds are also improving due to better backhaul.  I am frankly kicked over to 3G so rarely that I had to disable LTE in my settings just to run this speed test.  Sometimes I slip into 3G while driving and streaming music or streaming YouTube indoors.  It usually jumps back to 4G quickly and speeds are usually enough that I don't see an interruption in streaming or loading of media.

As I said, 4G is quite plentiful most places. When it started trickling in I would have speeds from 4-10 Mbps down and usually a much higher (10+ up). You will likely see a similar pattern as it is rolled out in your area. I get speeds anywhere between the test shown above and up to 33 Mbps depending on where I am or time of day, but the average is around 22 Mbps. Either way, it's faster than I need for most things, so most speeds past about 10 Mbps are just for show.




This is not my average test.  It is pretty easy to replicate though.  I usually get speeds like this at 3:30am.  There isn't much practical purpose to this speed test, but there isn't much practical purpose to the speedometer on my car going past 200 mph.  It's just cool. 

There's still a lot of work to be done.  There are many more locations that have yet to have Network Vision and Sprint LTE rolled out and then there is still the iDEN decommissioning and re purposing for 800Mhz LTE (which will be pretty sweet), but here's what you have to expect. I'm a data hungry user, so having these speeds all day long is awesome, Sprint's unlimited data is the perfect match for my usage, I'm still on WiFi when I'm at home, but even so, I end up going pretty far over where most data caps exist.

So if you're looking at a Sprint phone and want to know how it will actually perform on Sprint's new network, hopefully this is helpful.  I lucked out by living in one of the first and currently most complete Network Vision enabled regions, but throughout the next year many more people will fall under that umbrella.  In a couple years we may have 4 nearly nationwide LTE networks to choose from in most regions of the United States.  The industry would take off in some amazing ways if there was some reasonable competition and I think we are about to see that happen.

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