T-Mobile’s 3G network is faster than Sprint’s 4G network. Huh?

March 24, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Sprint, T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s 3G network is faster than Sprint’s 4G network. Huh?

Elementary math taught me that 4 is greater than 3, but that doesn’t seem to be the truth when looking at wireless networks. Despite Sprint touting its upcoming network as 4G – as in fourth generation – T-Mobile is set to roll-out a “3G” network that is theoretically twice as fast. Huh?

A couple of readers sent me messages asking about network speeds based on my excitement for the HTC EVO 4G, so I wanted to do a quick post discussing this issue further. Sprint WiMax has a theoretical speed of 10 Mbps, meaning that’s the maximum speed the network can support. However, actual speeds that users experience is about 3-6 Mbps. T-Mobile’s upcoming HSPA+ network has a 21 Mbps theoretical max.

This difference in speeds reflects the importance of terminology. T-Mobile’s upcoming network will be twice as fast as Sprint’s upcoming network, but not calling it 4G could potentially lead to confusion about which network is superior. My father, who is very much the “average” consumer, assumes Sprint is faster RIGHT NOW because the company advertises 4G while AT&T and Verizon talk about 3G. That’s clearly not the case, but Sprint framed the conversation in their favor, something T-Mobile isn’t doing.

HSPA+ pushes this generation of wireless networks further than WiMax, yet T-Mobile has opted not to market it as 4G. Either network will be fast enough for me, but if you want to be on the fastest network possible, T-Mobile is likely to the network that fits that bill (provided your city has an HSPA+ upgrade).

T-Mobile sent me a press release announcing that it would have the fastest wireless network in 2010. Here are some choice portions of it.

Today at International CTIA Wireless 2010, T-Mobile  USA, Inc., showcased the nation’s fastest 3G wireless network on its latest mobile broadband devices. The company unveiled plans to upgrade its national high-speed 3G service to the High Speed Packet Access Plus (HSPA+) technology, which will deliver customers data speeds faster than the current 3G network technology1 . By the end of 2010, T-Mobile  expects to have HSPA+ deployed across the breadth of its 3G footprint, covering more than 100 metropolitan areas and 185 million people.

T-Mobile successfully launched its HSPA+ network service in Philadelphia last fall providing customers access to one of the fastest and most modern wireless networks in the U.S. T-Mobile now has made HSPA+ commercially available in new markets including major areas of New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and suburban Washington, D.C., with deployment in Los Angeles coming very soon.

The company will continue to aggressively expand the availability of HSPA+ in additional 3G markets, putting the necessary backhaul capacity in place to support the very fast speeds. Today, its 3G high-speed data network covers more than 206 million people.