T-Mobile Test Drive Update: 4 Days In

My T-Mobile Test Drive kit arrived last Wednesday. I’m writing this on a Sunday night, but you won’t be reading it until at least Monday morning. The day was nearing its end by the time I was able to sit down with the iPhone 5s, so I didn’t get into seriously testing the network until Thursday. Once I was able to sit down with the device to set it up, I started to think about which apps that I used on my personal device that would be the most network intensive apps I could install on this T-Mobile test phone.

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I installed a bunch of my most-used and must-have apps. For music streaming, I’m pretty much a Spotify loyalist, but occasionally, I like to let Pandora do the music controlling for me, so I installed both of those apps. For social, my Twitter app of choice, TweetBot, along with Facebook, FourSquare Swarm, Tumblr, and Instagram–all of which can be quite data intensive at times. I installed HBOGo, YouTube, Netflix, and WatchESPN (not shown) for video streaming purposes. Uber was installed on a whim during a night out over the weekend to call for a car, Reeder was installed while I was waiting for the car and itching to catch up on some news, Google Voice to forward my phone calls, and SpeedTest to test network performance. Let’s get into it.

Call Quality

Despite the fact that I do most of my personal and business communications through email and text messaging, call quality was still something I was looking at testing the most during my Test Drive experiment. The first night I had the phone, I placed a test call to my own personal phone and drove from Mount Laurel, NJ to my home in Philadelphia–about a 20 mile drive. The call didn’t drop at all, even when switching from the weaker T-Mobile network conditions in Mount Laurel to the stronger towers as I got close to the city. Since that time, I’ve made numerous calls with the device, both inside and outside, while driving and walking, and I still have yet to experience a dropped call. I’ll probably update this in my next and final post about Test Drive, because I’ll be driving through areas where T-Mobile’s coverage isn’t as strong. As of now, I can say that call quality was excellent in the time I’ve spent talking on the device.

Network Coverage

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I used the coverage map that T-Mobile provides on its website to plot and pull the screen capture above. All of the map markers are places that I, or someone in my family travels frequently. I did this, because we may switch our family plan to T-Mobile, and want everyone to have service that is, at the very least, comparable to what we’re getting with Verizon right now. So far, I’ve been impressed with the coverage in and around my area. My device has dropped to T-Mobile’s slower HSPA+ network, but within moments, I was back on their LTE network and didn’t notice any speed drop off. Like I mentioned in my first piece, in Mount Laurel, NJ, I was connected to T-Mobile’s 2G EDGE network for a few minutes, but popped onto LTE by the time I left the housing development I was in. I think it was just an issue with being inside under tree cover. Inside my house, I have LTE that works just fine. In fact, it works better than my Verizon LTE with equal connection strength. I’ll take that for when my Comcast service decides to randomly shut off on a Monday morning.

Network Performance

Network coverage doesn’t really allude to much. Sometimes on a coverage map, you’ll be in an area with excellent coverage, but the service might be awful. I was worried about this, but I’m definitely not anymore. T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network really exceeded my expectations and blew me away. Before I dive into the specifics, it has out performed my personal Verizon line and an AT&T review device line.

SpeedTest.net

I love, love, love the SpeedTest app. Whenever I travel somewhere new, I test the cell network speed to see if it’s any good. I run them constantly on my laptop during the work day to make sure I’m getting good speeds. I’ve run a fair amount (I’ll be running plenty more) and I’ve gotten some very impressive results. SpeedTest results aren’t always indicative of network performance, but I’ve found it’s one of the most accurate ways to judge the quality of the network you’re on. I’ve exported the test results and listed them in a charge below (click to open the chart). The speeds are listed in kilobits per second. For a rough estimate of megabits per second, just take the first two numbers (ie. 34954Kbps is about 34Mbps). I averaged 24Mbps/13Mbps download and upload speeds, respectively. According to Akamai, at the beginning of this year, the average home broadband speed in the United States was 9.8Mbps, so these speeds aren’t slouching. My Verizon Wireless device averaged 11Mbps down and 6Mbps up in the same testing areas.

Conclusion: T-Mobile’s network is certainly plenty fast, and incredibly consistent in areas where their network is plentiful.

SpeedTest Results

Date Download (in Kbps) Upload (in Kbps) Latency ServerName
6/29/2014 18:23:00 34954 20295 43 Harrisburg, PA
6/29/2014 18:19:00 46056 18763 41 Clifton, NJ
6/29/2014 18:19:00 35077 18315 37 Clifton, NJ
6/29/2014 18:17:00 44215 19218 37 Clifton, NJ
6/29/2014 18:16:00 51402 17471 39 Clifton, NJ
6/29/2014 17:22:00 8401 14039 44 Plainfield, NJ
6/29/2014 16:31:00 12202 11035 44 Plainfield, NJ
6/29/2014 15:29:00 22024 17526 47 Plainfield, NJ
6/29/2014 14:48:00 27127 10613 39 Harrisburg, PA
6/28/2014 15:04:00 11089 5537 37 New York City, NY
6/28/2014 14:20:00 6318 4278 38 Plainfield, NJ
6/28/2014 14:10:00 19674 11379 36 Plainfield, NJ
6/28/2014 14:04:00 9056 13391 37 New York City, NY
6/27/2014 21:19:00 16042 12849 39 Plainfield, NJ
6/27/2014 19:27:00 18536 11497 40 Plainfield, NJ
6/27/2014 19:01:00 14499 12093 49 New York City, NY
6/27/2014 18:40:00 6486 2260 46 Plainfield, NJ
6/27/2014 12:12:00 40602 18037 32 New York City, NY
6/26/2014 17:44:00 35347 19963 38 Plainfield, NJ
6/26/2014 17:40:00 42647 19386 42 New York City, NY
6/26/2014 9:34:00 23564 1063 40 Plainfield, NJ
6/25/2014 16:00:00 14729 8216 38 Plainfield, NJ
6/25/2014 15:50:00 9264 15049 43 Plainfield, NJ
6/25/2014 15:49:00 26230 9774 39 Plainfield, NJ
6/25/2014 15:25:00 21821 11005 35 Plainfield, NJ
6/25/2014 15:24:00 28229 17623 40 Plainfield, NJ
AVERAGES: 24061.19 13102.88 40

Spotify/Pandora in the Car

When I’m driving, I like to rely on streaming music services to serve up playlists. Occasionally, I’ll stream an entire album, but there’s something to be said for radio-esque music variety while you’re driving. I’ve driven about 100-or-so miles since I’ve had the T-Mobile device, with Spotify and Pandora delivering the tunes most of that time, and not once did a song stop streaming or stutter. I’ve even driven through areas where my Verizon phone will go silent for a few seconds at a time. When T-Mobile announced the Test Drive program, it also announced its Music Freedom initiative. Streaming music from the web’s biggest music streaming services no longer counts towards your monthly data allotment and that will definitely be a huge factor for members of my family if we decide to switch; everyone loves listening to music on-the-go. I use Spotify constantly, but now I won’t have to worry about saving music for offline listening unless I’m going to be in an area where there’s absolutely no signal or traveling on an airplane. I’m sure there will eventually be some hiccups, but if you contrast that with the fact that streaming isn’t costing you any data, it seems like a fair trade-off.

Data Performance in Crowded Environments

This one is pretty important to me. As a sports junkie who attends a lot of sporting events, I’ve seen my fair share of networks crumble under the weight of 20,000+ people in a confined space, trying to check Facebook or upload photos to Instagram. I attended the NHL Draft here in Philadelphia on Friday night. The area was mostly sold out, with people on their phones following the action on social media all night. The network didn’t crumble under the pressure. On the same note, my Verizon Wireless phone didn’t have much of an issue dealing with all of the congestion, either. The Philadelphia sports complex is notorious for having less-than-stellar cell coverage during crowded events, and I won’t be able to test this again during my Test Drive, but I’m glad to know that the network didn’t crumble under a normal hockey game type environment.

What’s Next?

I’m delivering the iPhone back to my local T-Mobile store on Wednesday and I have a few more things that I want to test out from now until then. Mainly, I want to see how well the iPhone and T-Mobile network will handle being used as a mobile hotspot. I work out of Starbucks and random coffee shops a lot, so it’s nice to have Internet that’s better than Starbucks Internet. Let’s face it, Starbucks WiFi is terrible in most stores that haven’t implemented Google WiFi yet. It’ll also be nice to not count on my school’s terrible WiFi when I’m trying to do some homework or write some posts during class breaks. T-Mobile allows you to use your data plan as a mobile hotspot up to a certain amount, and I’m pretty conservative when it comes to data in the first place, so it should work out for me.

I’ve been really enjoying my time with T-Mobile. Knowing that my music streaming and reckless speed testing isn’t counting against an invisible limitation is extremely comforting. They’re two of the things I do every month that chew up the most data on our account. Removing those will give me the ability to choose a lower data package, and inevitably save money. Saving money is good. So, T-Mobile is good.

I’ll report my final thoughts on Wednesday or Thursday. See you then.

 

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