Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed here are purely based on my experience. I would imagine most people would have similar experiences in the same geography – but regardless, my views here are based on my personal experience and experimentation. Regardless, the opinions expressed here are purely mine.

Just recently, I took the Acela Express from Metropark NJ to Washington Union Station. I know I have written about this topic more than once but I wanted to provide an update – because I see an abiding interest in my wireless specific posts and also because since I did this route after a while, I saw some service improvements that should be articulated for readers trying to figure out the best voice and data service across the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

As people who have followed this blog would know, I use both a Sprint and ATT phone service. I also have a Sprint broadband card constantly tethered to my laptop – one of the joys of having a life of being constantly on the road.

Data Coverage:

I cant compare the Sprint Broadband service to ATT Broadband service – just because I dont have an ATT wireless card – but courtesy of Good Messaging, I use data services pretty extensively on my ATT Treo 750.

So, I logged onto the Sprint broadband network the moment I got on the train at Metropark station NJ. I found the high speed EVDO network no problems. As we chugged along towards Philadelphia, I remember there used to be these holes at random places where EVDO would get bumped down to the slower Rx1TT – especially around Philadelphia station. All those holes seem to be now gone. There was constant EVDO service between Metropark and right after we left Philadelphia. Earlier, in the tunnel after the Philly station, the connection would get broken. This time around, while I wasn’t on EVDO – I was connected on Rx1TT. Never got disconnected. Got bumped up to EVDO again right after the tunnels and didnt get bumped down or disconnected till we reached close to Baltimore. There I did get disconnected – but only after I chose not to connect on roaming – this must be a firmware update on my card – I never got that earlier. And then after a 3-4 miles, I was back on EVDO all the way to the Union Station.

Verdict: I have consistently maintained that Sprint today offers the best high speed data network in the United States (to be significantly enhanced in the next couple of years courtesy Wimax) – and the network, atleast in the much-traveled New York-Washington corridor has definitely gotten much better. I got a lot of work done, sent out 3 meg powerpoints and downloaded a bunch of email. Breeze. You cant get better data service from any provider including Verizon Wireless.

About ATT Wireless (or ATT Mobility, as it is now called), the data network was fair. Didn’t even come close to Sprint – as a matter of fact, the whole route was scattered with coverage holes (I’ll come to that later) – but when we were in coverage, the data did download as expected. Of course, ATT data speeds dont even compare to Sprint – its EDGE network is closer to Rx1TT and doesnt stand a snuff to Sprint EVDO. While ATT is still deploying its HSDPA network (with theoretical speeds matching Sprint’s EDGE) but it is theoretical. I experimented with a HSDPA capable device (HTC 7500) and the speeds, while faster than EDGE, is visibly slower than EVDO. And I hear EVDO Rev 2 is noticeably faster.

But most compellingly, ATT Wireless does not have coverage even closely comparable to Sprint. And I talk about this based on my experiences traveling in California, Kansas, Washington, Boston, New York and all over New Jersey.

Verdict: ATT Wireless is spotty, slow and adequate at best. I would not recommend ATT Wireless for your mobile broadband needs, be it PC card based or high speed phone based services. There are significant coverage holes in the geography I covered – and since this is one of the most traveled corridors in the United States, it does not portend well to overall ATT coverage.

Voice Coverage:

I sort of expected the results I got, admittedly using random talk times on each of my phones. I was constantly on calls for about an hour and I swapped phones just to test out the coverage I got from each of the providers.

I know I would be going against the grain of established perception about the quality of networks especially given ATT’s claims of the “Fewest Dropped Calls” – but Sprint was far superior. In my prior experience with Verizon wireless, I would say that Sprint still wasn’t as good – but it was much improved and I hardly had any problems at all during my entire trip save those two very areas – the tunnels after the Philly station and when we were nearing Baltimore. Sprint offers free roaming for USD 5 per month – if I had that option enabled, I would have no coverage gaps – because where Sprint did not have signal – it had roaming. Important to mention here that one of the shortcomings of Sprint’s network is that the transition from in-network to roaming isnt seamless. The call always drops. Theoretically, if you have roaming enabled, it should not – but it does.

ATT Wireless had sporadic holes. I had atleast two dropped calls when the signal showed two bars. Especially around Southern New Jersey (where Sprint has pretty strong coverage), I went out of coverage with ATT atleast thrice. I wasnt using the phone at that time so I cant comment about how long they lasted -but based on the out of coverage beeps on my headset – lasted for about 30 seconds each on a fast moving Acela Express.

Verdict: Sprint was much superior to ATT again. Though it would be fair to point that Verizon Wireless has the best voice coverage – this based on my experience around 3 months ago.


Postscript: I get a lot of response when I write these posts – about how I am biased this way or that. I am not. I just believe a lot of public perception is based on the concerted and effective advertising – and sometimes the ground realities and user experiences are vastly different. I just recently signed on as an ATT subscriber , primarily because I wanted a GSM service provider and a phone I could carry overseas. I am writing this because my experiences are so utterly different from what the commercials promised and consequently, what I expected.

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