Portland 3G Data Test: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon

Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon

My in-laws live in Portland's sorta twin city, Vancouver, WA. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to check out the 3G situation.

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PGE Park (Saturday, 12 noon)
Home of the Triple-A Beavers, among other minor league sports teams, it's a centrally located venue for fun stuff in Portland. Surprisingly, there was a Starbucks conveniently located right nearby.

Portland State University (Saturday, 1pm)
Surprisingly, the park bench near the university where I tested was not very far from PGE Park, just a few miles, but the reception was quite different, proving that you need diversity of locations to do a proper 3G test.

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Vancouver, WA (Saturday, 10am)
Up across the Columbia River from Portland, the "other" Vancouver is a low-key city whose residents score a sweet double-whammy: No income tax (in WA) and no sales tax (if they shop down in OR).

Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
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Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
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Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon

Results
Sprint had a strong showing, with some blistering download speeds at Portland State University. Reception wasn't hot for anyone at PGE, though in Vancouver, Sprint again was the winner. AT&T, as expected, managed high upload speeds in Portland, though the fire wasn't there in Vancouver.

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Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
Illustration for article titled Portland 3G Data Test: ATT, Sprint and Verizon
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DISCUSSION

I too live in Portland and I have significant experience with the wireless industry here as I have managed wireless service contracts for hundreds of people at multiple companies (and I am a network engineer). I personally have used EVDO service from Verizon and Sprint both in Portland, and on business elsewhere.

I applaud gizmodo for attempting to undertake a study such as this, although I must take some issue with it. Three test points in Portland do not make a statistically valid survey.

I believe that Verizon Wireless hands down has the best wireless network in the state of Oregon for the following reasons:

1. They have one of the two 850 mhz licenses in the majority of the state (in addition to 1900 mhz spectrum). This spectrum penetrates structures better than the 1900mhz used by Sprint and T-Mobile. (it is worth noting that Verizon has deployed EVDO in 1900mhz spectrum here however so the 850 only helps them with voice)

2. They have been in this market forever and so they have had *years* to build out tower locations and tweak their network. (this really matters!)

3. Verizon has made incredible investments in this market (and they continue this today) Their local engineering team is phenomenal (as evidenced by the fact that I *never ever* drop any calls anywhere, even in tunnels). They just built a *huge* command bunker compound out in Hillsboro that they are moving their main switch for the state of Oregon to. This thing is industrial grade, complete with multiple power feeds, fiber feeds, generators, diesel storage, COW (Cell on Wheel) pads, and security up the wazoo.

I believe the reason the speeds did not compare as well may be for the following reasons:

1. Verizon is so far ahead with their network in Portland (they deployed 3G before anyone) and they have such a huge percentage of the customer base that they suffer a bit from heavy load.

2. Three data points (two of which in the high density downtown area) are not statistically valid. I would recommend taking the test rig out to the suburbs and repeat testing. Also, give it a shot up in the West Hills (terrain in Oregon is a pain in the butt!). Verizon has EVDO deployed even down in southern Oregon in the middle of logging towns. I camp on some friends property near Riddle, Oregon frequently and I get EVDO data speeds there! (try that on ATT or Sprint)

3. I suspect that Verizon is suffering with a lack of backhaul capacity from their cell sites to the Internet. I believe most of these sites are fed by copper T-1's bonded together which does not scale very well. I have heard some (unsubstantiated) rumors that they are upgrading these.

P.S. - Totally unrelated to Verizon and this test, but it is worth noting that ClearWire Broadband is now launching WiMax in Portland (one of their two test markets). I am very curious to see how this works out. ClearWire has taken a *very* lightweight approach to tower equipment deployment (i.e. one tiny cabinet at each tower vs. Verizon's bunker at each site). That being said, ClearWire is using microwave backhaul radios to feed Internet to each tower location which I am assuming is a minimum of 100 megabit to each tower (might even be gigabit). They have very rapidly deployed a high density of towers all over town and they could end up with a very promising network. I believe sales start here in January.