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Is one better than the other -- EV-DO, HSDPA or Wi-Fi?

Often found in the Brighthand.com forum are questions concerning the superiority of EV-DO, HSDPA or Wi-Fi, and Adama D. Brown comes to the rescue with some discussion to shed light on the topic.

This article originally appeared on Brighthand.com.

Often found in the Brighthand.com forum are questions concerning the superiority of EV-DO, HSDPA or Wi-Fi. Adama D. Brown comes to the rescue with some discussion to shed light on the topic, including discussion of service providers and the different technologies.

A typical question asked in the Brighthand forums goes something like this:

I'm thinking about getting a smartphone, but I'm confused about the different network options. Who has the fastest 3G network? Or would I be better off with Wi-Fi?

The wireless carriers in the U.S. use a range of network types.

Both Sprint and Verizon use a standard called EV-DO. It's data transfer rate is usually 500 to 1000 Kbits per sec., peaking at 2 Mbps.

These carriers are in the process of upgrading their EV-DO networks from Revision 0 to Revision A, but the major speed increase is for uploading files. Download speed only gets about a 10% bump on Rev. A, but upload speed triples.

What about AT&T and T-Mobile?
AT&T uses a completely different 3G standard called HSDPA, which is one of reasons why phones created for one of the other carriers won't work on AT&T's network and vice versa. HSDPA has a theoretical data download speed twice that of EV-DO, but in practice speeds are similar, at least on current networks.

AT&T is in the process of adding HSUPA to its network, increasing upload speeds. Together these will be called simple HSPA.

Poor T-Mobile doesn't have a 3G network at all. Its EDGE network runs around 80-120 Kbits on average, so EV-DO and HSDPA would be about 6-10 times faster. Still, it's supposed to finally bring an HSDPA network online in summer of 2008.

3G vs. Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is only as fast as the connection you hook it to. That can be anywhere up to 50 megabits per sec., but more often 1 to 5 Mbps.

As I mentioned earlier, even under absolutely ideal conditions, EV-DO and HSDPA peak out at 2 mbps, so they are almost always noticeably slower than Wi-Fi. However, the coverage for cellular-wireless networks is a lot better unless you spend all your time in and around Wi-Fi hotspots.

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