AT&T Won the Mobile-Phone Super Bowl

Why aren't there more real-world tests of mobile-phone companies' claims?

One has to enjoy this item from Ars Technica: "AT&T defeated rivals Verizon Wireless and Sprint at yesterday's Super Bowl almost as soundly as the Seattle Seahawks bested the Denver Broncos, according to a test of cellular data performance. AT&T provided average throughput of 5.3Mbps down and 2.9Mbps up, while Verizon and Sprint couldn't even manage half that according to tests by Nexgen Wireless."

This is the sort of thing that matters in an era when people bring their smartphones everywhere and might be sitting in the stands at a football game watching a video rather than the action on the field (behavior I have witnessed). With mobile-phone carriers running commercials featuring competing claims about coverage, some actual field tests are in order. Here's what was tested:

The tests yesterday were conducted in six sequences before, during, and at the end of the game in various seating areas and levels of the stadium, both indoors and outdoors. Each sequence took about 28 minutes and included 10 calls of about 20 seconds each; three calls of about two minutes each; playback of a two-minute YouTube video; uploads of 20MB and 10MB files; and 100 ping tests. While the networks varied in percentage of calls completed, none of the networks dropped any calls after they were completed.

AT&T Inc. didn't win everything: According to the report, "its network completed a lower percentage of voice calls than either Verizon or Sprint."

Verizon Wireless, we are told, objected to the methodology, pointing out that its customers used about three times the amount of data served by AT&T. Nevertheless, says Ars Technica, "an individual user would have had a better experience on the AT&T network when uploading and downloading data." That's not a refutation of Verizon's point, necessarily, but it's a correct statement of the business implications. Verizon Wireless's bills are the industry's highest. The consumer whose connection is slower doesn't care about the reason. (Disclosure: I am a Verizon Wireless customer.)

Real-world tests are valuable -- particularly in the midst of densely populated areas and overflowing arenas -- to help guide consumer choice. Let's see more of them.

(Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. He is the author of "The Violence of Peace: America's Wars in the Age of Obama" and the novel "The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln." Follow him on Twitter at @StepCarter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.