WiFi or LTE—which is faster?

Today was one of those mornings. When I woke up, I found that my Internet connection was on the fritz. No worries—there was network maintenance at my ISP, Webpass, last night, so perhaps there was a need to reboot the devices and the routers. I did that dutifully. Twice. Nothing happened. Since it was way earlier than what normal people call a morning, I left a voicemail with Webpass support and went to my device(s).

Since Webpass offers around 500 Mbps in my building and I use the latest wireless routers, I know what it feels like to live on 150+ Mbps wireless connections. And it also means that when I encounter anything less, I can intuitively tell that something is slow.

I connected with (Verizon) LTE on my iPhone 6+ and was getting a steady 8 megabits per second. My iPad Air was connected to T-Mobile LTE networks, and I was getting roughly 12 megabits per second, but the network quality was like a moody teenager—sometimes up, sometimes down. In comparison, I logged into a public WiFi network owned by an incumbent on my laptop, and the best I could get was between 1-2 megabits per second.

In the end, I ended up using my iPhone for emails, catching up on morning reading and writing out some ideas that have been percolating in my head. It isn’t the first time I have turned off WiFi and gone LTE-only. Every time I am sitting in a cafe and accessing public WiFi networks, the performance is a step higher than useless.

Whether it is the fear of carrier overages, or just the preconceived notion that WiFi is faster, most of us continue to log into WiFi expecting it to be blazing fast. But it isn’t really true, both from my personal, anecdotal and totally unreliable point of view and from a data-backed view. Most of the popular public WiFi platforms like Starbucks WiFi, Xfinity, hotel WiFi and a whole lot of others are quite slow compared to a good LTE connection—especially Verizon, which is pricey but reliable.

TwinPrime is one of True Ventures’ portfolio companies (and I sit in the board) that is spearheading a smarter infrastructure movement, and works with mobile applications that are accessed millions of times by millions around the world. It’s technology that allows apps to navigate the choppy waters of network conditions. They recently analyzed about a billion requests from across 100 countries, 200 carriers and 1,000 types of devices and found that WiFi speed is a myth.

In summary, the study found that iPhone 6 devices download 200-250 KB images noticeably faster over LTE than WiFi in cities around the world such as Paris, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Beijing, Montreal, Milan, Denver and Houston. Although WiFi is faster in London, Chicago and New York, the difference is under 200 milliseconds. Download speed also varies depending on the device, the operating system and even the version of the operating system. In Philadelphia, download speed is 37.5 percent faster on iPhone 6 devices running iOS 8.4 compared to iOS 8.3. They are sharing their findings in this blog post, and you should check it out. (I wrote about why it matters in my post, On mobile, slow speeds kill.)

As for me — the network has been restored and and I am back on my usual 150 Mbps. It is nice to be working, listening to Spotify in the background and staying out of the heat.

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