Image from T-Mobile's ad campaign which touts the networks speed

You can buy all sorts of cool, new smartphones these days to play games, watch video or connect on social networks. But the device is just half the battle, of course.

You’ve also got to make sure that the network — the plumbing if you will — actually is up to the task. Root Metrics today released a report showing the top data speeds for the major carriers in 42 markets, a study that comes after more than 320,000 driving and indoor location tests using a variety of devices.

What did Root Metrics find? Well, Verizon — known for its durable network — is still the king of the hill. It surpassed download speeds of 3 Mbps at least 70 percent of the time in 36 of the 42 markets studied. AT&T, by comparison, hit that milestone in just 18 markets.

Interestingly, even though T-Mobile doesn’t offer an LTE network, it still surpassed the upper threshold in 13 markets. That’s especially interesting since T-Mobile and AT&T are fighting it out right now on whose networks are the fastest, highlighted by T-Mobile’s edgy new ad campaign with a motorcycle riding Carly.

And what about Sprint, MetroPCS and Cricket? They had no markets in which speeds of 3 Mbps were consistently hit in 70 percent of the tests.

Sprint, the country’s third largest carrier and big backer of Kirkland-based Clearwire, is taking it on the chin in the report. Here’s what the authors had to say about the carrier:

“To be blunt, Sprint has not kept up with the other national carriers in our 2012 data tests. They are especially uncompetitive in markets where they do not have Wi-MAX available. Even in cities where Wi-MAX is offered, though, we aren’t seeing marked improvements when comparing this year’s speeds to what we found during testing last year. They have promised an initial LTE launch by mid-2012 [3] and, if their speeds are comparable to what we have found from AT&T and Verizon, we expect a more competitive race from Sprint. For now, though, their service seems to be languishing as they adopt a policy of “better LTE than never” and wait for upgrades to be completed later in the year.”

Meanwhile, here’s a look at graphics from the four major carriers. The data is explained this way by Root Metrics:

  • At Upper Threshold speeds (> 3 Mbps), it would take 10 minutes or less to download a 30-minute television show in standard definition and 10 seconds or less to download a music file.
  • At Lower Threshold speeds (< 1.5 Mbps), things change considerably. It would take at least 20 minutes to download the same tv show and at least 20 seconds to download your music file.

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  • BlitzCraig

    I live in Kentucky. Sprint has no 4G anywhere in this state. I was foolish enough to sign another two year contract with them to get the Galaxy S3 which is slower then my previous Evo 4G because Sprint failed to mention the S3 is barely compatible with their out of date last generation WiMax system. But they do promise 4G LTE across their entire network by the end of 2013. But then again they promised me 4G in just a couple months over two years ago when I went them for the first 4G phone on the market. Still waiting for that old system 4G and my Evo is worn out. Word to the wiser than me, stay away from Sprint.

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