The company published a press release today claiming that its version of the iPhone 4S is "twice" as fast as that being offered by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. How could this possibly be? Let's look at the radio support in the iPhone 4S.
Rather than make two different versions of the iPhone (one for GSM networks, one for CDMA networks) Apple made one version that supports both network types. This means the same phone will work on AT&T's network, Sprint's network, and the Verizon Wireless network.
The iPhone 4S includes HSPA+ at up to 14.4Mbps theoretical max download speeds. That means in real-world conditions, iPhone 4S users can expect to see the best possible download speeds between 7Mbps and 10Mbps. Even using an iPhone 4, which has a lower maximum data rate than the iPhone 4S, I've achieved maximum download speeds on AT&T's network as high as 5.1Mbps.
[ Are Apple-haters missing the point about the iPhone 4S? See iPhone Vs Android: It's The Sum, Not The Specs. ]
What about the iPhone 4S on Sprint and Verizon? CDMA-EVDO Rev. A, which is the fastest and best form of EVDO deployed by Sprint and Verizon Wireless, has a maximum download speed of 3.1Mbps. Real-world speeds are often between 1.2Mbps and 2.0Mbps. The highest EVDO speed I've ever achieved is 1.86Mbps.
Simply comparing the two best numbers I have personally experienced (sampling both networks back one year), it is easy to see that AT&T's HSPA+ network is faster that either Sprint or Verizon's EVDO networks under peak conditions.
This gives AT&T at least one marketing advantage over its rivals. The other is that AT&T's version of the iPhone 4S will let customers talk on the phone and surf the internet at the same time. CDMA-EVDO networks aren't built to offer that type of dual use.
AT&T is clearly happy to have these differentiators in its corner.
"We can't wait for our customers to experience the incredible new iPhone 4S on our 4G network and enjoy download speeds of up to twice as fast," said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "When you combine the nation's fastest mobile broadband network with iPhone 4S, as well as our new pricing for iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, we think we have the best iPhone line up in the industry."