LTE is a big improvement for data, with higher download and upload speeds than 3G. WCDMA could offer 3-5Mbps but LTE can reach 5-12Mbps, according to Vish Nandlall, CTO North America for Ericsson. That's enough to make streaming high-definition video and audio a smooth, painless process, he says.
The RootMetrics data performance survey was conducted in 2012; it involved visiting 75 U.S. markets, and doing 500,000 indoor and driving tests of cellular connections (of any type) using off-the-shelf smartphones.
One chart looked at how consistently each carrier delivered fast and slow download speeds. For example, over-5Mbps connections occurred 77% of the time at Verizon, 48% at AT&T, 47% at T-Mobile and 17% at Sprint. As noted earlier, the higher-speed subset of this class -- over-15Mbps connections -- occurred 38% of the time at Verizon, 13% at AT&T, 6% at T-Mobile and zero at Sprint. Connections ranging from 1.5-5Mbps occurred 11% of the time at Verizon, 17% at Sprint, 30% at T-Mobile and 34% at AT&T.
Using more data
From the end user viewpoint, LTE means faster data speeds. Based on the usage pattern of other LTE devices in the U.S., iPhone users on average will about double their data use.
"LTE users are drawing about two times the amount of traffic, averaging about 1 gig per month," says Ericsson's Nandlall. Much of that increase is video. "You start to be able to do more, like high-definition FaceTime [Apple's video chat feature]," he says. "You can do better video recordings and upload them faster."
Verizon and AT&T have moved away from unlimited data plans and users need to view data differently because they're "engaging" the network differently, says Alex Pavlovic, director of marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's wireless division. "Operators probably need to spend the next two years educating customers to look at smartphone connectivity as a [usage-based] utility similar to electricity," he says.
You can talk, or you can surf
iPhone 5 will not let you do voice and data at the same time on CDMA2000 networks such as those from Sprint and Verizon. LTE , when available, will be for data, and voice calls will be handled by the carriers' 3G networks. Carriers eventually will add support for voice over LTE (VoLTE), now offered only by the regional carrier MetroPCS.