For well over a year now Sprint customers have been dealing with sluggish 3G and 4G WiMAX data speeds. Network woes for America's third largest wireless carrier have worsened over the past six months or so, as the carrier's outdated WiMAX 4G offerings were halted in an effort to focus on building a new 4G LTE network. While this decision has good intentions, it has left the bulk of Sprint's customers stranded on its old, overcrowded CDMA 3G network. However, all hope may not be lost for Sprint and its customers, as the troubled carrier has pledged to deploy its new LTE services by mid-2012, which is literally a couple of weeks away. Set to hit Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, and San Antonio, the question remains if Sprint's new network setup can hold its own with already established 4G LTE from its competition.

In an effort to answer this burning question, PCMag recently spent some candid time with Sprint's new LTE network and ran several tests comparing it to both Verizon's and AT&T's LTE services. The tests were conducted in Atlanta, Georgia in five different locations using a "specially provisioned" LG Viper 4G LTE phone and a PC Mag's in-house Sensorly app, along with Ookla's app.

The results reveal that Sprint's LTE is indeed fast, but not quite as fast as peak speeds seen on AT&T's and Verizon's networks. This is to be expected, due to Sprint decision to use 5MHz channels band instead of the 10MHz channels that its competition uses. However, the networks still appear to be very competitive. Using the Sensorly speed test app in four different test locations, PCMag found that Sprint's network produced an average download speed between 9 and 13Mbps, which is on a par with AT&T's 5MHz channel LTE. Sprint's download speeds peaked at 26.5Mbps, which also remained competitive with AT&T's peak 5MHz speeds of around 27.8Mbps.

Surprisingly Sprint's network speeds were comparable to Verizon's 10MHz setup, but keep in mind that Verizon's network is already used by its customers, while Sprint's was near empty and in a controlled testing environment. In regards to upload speeds, Sprint's LTE averaged 2.19Mbps, which remained consistant with its own WiMAX 4G, AT&T's LTE, T-Mobile HSPA+, but was still slower than Verizon.

Obviously focused on LTE, Sprint is aggressively pushing new LTE-capable phones such as the Galaxy Nexus, LG Viper, and HTC EVO 4G LTE, but as it stands these new devices are stuck in the mud on Sprint's 3G network until its 4G LTE network goes live for customers. While Sprint has committed to a midyear LTE deployment, the carrier has remained coy about its complete network release schedule. This restrictive strategy places a great deal of Sprint's customers in the dark about their network's future, and the carrier runs the risk of losing customers to existing LTE networks offered by its competitors.

While Sprint continues to remain in network limbo, its biggest beacon of hope for its customers is its noted commitment to true unlimited data. This is something that its major competitors have abandoned and will likely be Sprint's saving grace if the carrier's data speeds are attractive to consumers. However, if Sprint doesn't deliver on its promises sooner than later, the only speed the carrier will be experiencing is a rapid loss of existing customers.

[via: PC Mag]