The Current US 4G Round-Up.
First off, I'll preface this by saying that 4G, as it is used in the American mobile marketplace, is nothing but a marketing term. The International Telecommunication Union defines 4G as a service with 100 Mbps download speeds for cellphones. Let's be clear about this. We will not see in-use speeds that meet that standard for another year or two.
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That said, "American 4G" (4G's 'slow' step-brother) is still a big jump ahead of a 3G network. I've been using Sprint/Clear's 4G WiMAX network for months now, usually getting between 2-6 Mbps. That compares really well to 3G (let's say 600 Kbps) but not so well to real 4G. You know, like they have over in Europe.
T-Mobile is also advertising a 4G network. They claim their HSPA+ network ranges from 3-12 Mbps. Recent speed tests put in-use speeds from 3G-level up to 8 Mbps. T-Mo claims 21 Mbps top-speeds, but you will not see that out in the wild.
Verizon's LTE network showed around 12 Mbps down in early speed tests. More extensive trials have given average, real-world speed of between 5-12 or 2-5 Mbps in major cities. One unofficial home test showed downlink speeds of 28 Mbps.
So it's clear that Big Red has the edge on 4G speed. Or at least they will in early 2011 when the first LTE smartphones launch. But raw speed isn't the only consideration here. Your LTE data plan will be capped and tiered. Verizon LTE customers will trade limited data use for faster speeds (and likely higher prices).
HSPA+ is also capped. 5GB a month is as much as you can get. Sprint is the only "4G" provider that offers unlimited Internet access. If you want to lock that down for the next couple of years, get a contract now before they change their minds.
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Now, for price. Sprint charges an additional $10/month for 4G, which brings the total plan cost to $80/month, plus another $30 if you want the hotspot feature. T-Mobile's HSPA+ will run you $59.99/month for 5 GB, or $19.99/mo for 200 MB. Verizon's LTE pricing plans are still up in the air, but they may end up using a metered price plan. We'll have to wait and see there, but I'd expect a 5 GB/month plan to run you at least Sprint's $80/month.