Why I’m not switching to the Verizon iPhone: Need for speed

The image above says it all. It shows a screen capture of an actual speed test performed on an Apple iPhone 4 while connected to AT&T’s 3G network in northern New Jersey. It is not an anomaly. In fact it’s pretty standard in my home town and in the surrounding areas. Sometimes my download speed is faster and sometimes it’s slower, but it generally stays between 3.5 and 5Mbps¹. I can’t give that up.

Verizon Wireless has an incredibly strong network. It works everywhere, seemingly without fail, and hopefully the carrier can maintain its reputation as a rock solid network even after it is infested with data-gulping iPhones. What the Verizon Wireless network is not, however, is fast. In my town, which is roughly 15 minutes northwest of the George Washington Bridge, Verizon’s average download speed sits around 800Kbps¹. The fastest I’ve seen it in this area is just over 1Mbps. I use Verizon devices all the time as part of my job, and I often carry them with me outside my job. When I want to do something that involves downloading large files or streaming video content, I use an AT&T phone.

But what about reliability? AT&T is horrible! Wrong. AT&T might be horrible for you, but it works just fine for me. Not always, of course, but often enough that I have no interest in switching my main personal account to another provider and sacrificing data speed in the process. In late 2009 and early 2010, it was a very different story. I could rarely make phone calls in the area around my office in New York City and had Verizon scored the iPhone back then, I would have switched in a second. But beginning last summer, however, AT&T’s service in midtown Manhattan improved dramatically.

The other big part my decision comes down to the core reason any “my network is better than your network” argument is patently ridiculous. A network’s coverage, performance and reliability vary greatly depending on region — without exception. Notice the full five bars my iPhone 4 was reporting when the screen shot above was captured. Along with every other AT&T phone I have lying around, my iPhone just about always displays five bars of coverage near my home, office and nearly everywhere else I go in the area. Even when I give it the death grip.

In 2012 when AT&T and Verizon Wireless each have LTE networks that offer widespread coverage and speedy data connections, I’ll reassess the situation. I expect a 4G LTE iPhone to launch for both networks in 2012, so pricing and coverage will become the two main factors I consider. Today, however, switching from AT&T to Verizon would be like switching from broadband to dial-up — and I just can’t handle that.

¹Figures represent estimated average download speeds observed on AT&T and Verizon Wireless’ 3G data networks. The figures are based on independent speed tests performed using various devices with various speed test applications and are in no way scientific.

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