City Cellular: Results from New Jersey

van in cityCity cellular connections are better than being out in the wilderness, right? That depends.

Anytime you’re in a major metropolitan area, you will notice good and bad impacts on your cellular service. That’s because while the major carriers are likely to have more towers for city cellular service, they also are carrying signals from a lot more people, which can clog things up.

When we travel, we often have to stay in touch for work or with family. That means having cellular service even when we would rather just get away.

On a recent trip to New York City, we stayed at an RV Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from the Big Apple. Once we were set up on our site, I quickly figured out the best options for cellular service. We currently travel with access to Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile (through Project Fi) on our cell phones. We also have a Verizon Jetpack and a WeBoost cell signal booster.

I use the Speedtest app on my Android phone to test signal strength. I ran a variety of tests to see what we had to work with while in Jersey City. Here is the basic rundown of the results:

city cellular Speedtest screenshot

Verizon vs. Fi

I was looking to compare Verizon vs. my Fi phone the most. I tested the Google Project Fi phone with and without the cellular booster turned on. Project Fi uses either Sprint or T-Mobile towers depending on location and strength of the available signal. I also tested our Verizon Jetpack but didn’t bother testing the signals on an iPhone on Verizon. I knew that no matter what happened, the Jetpack would pull in a stronger signal than the iPhone because it always does. Since the iPhone we have and the Project Fi phone can make wireless calls, there wasn’t much point in worrying about the iPhone signal. If the signal is low, we just use WiFi calling through the Jetpack. (Plus, Jessi was waiting to go check out the area. That meant I was trying to minimize any delays from my tech geekiness.)

The first result listed in the screenshot above is for Google Project Fi (using T-Mobile) with the cellular booster turned on. With a 7.42 Mbps download speed and 9.74 Mbps upload, it gave me the fastest results, which surprised me because Verizon generally does better. (That’s not a pitch for Verizon, as I really like the versatility of my Fi phone. But for consistently strong coverage, Verizon still tends to beat the other guys.) The last result above was for the same phone but without the booster. As you can see, with a drop to 2.21 download and 4.9 upload, the degradation was significant.

The second result listed was for the Verizon Jetpack with the booster on. The third result was for the same unit without the booster. The 6.11 Mbps download was comparable to the Fi phone, but the 5.72 Mbps upload was quite deficient by comparison. The biggest surprise to me was that the Jetpack without the booster was so slow.

Your mileage may vary

To be fair with the tests, I did all of them while standing in the same spot inside the RV right near where I always place the Jetpack. The RV we travel in can affect the cellular signals due to its construction, but I have found one spot near the front consistently gives me the best signal on the Jetpack. So, that’s where I put it and my Fi phone for these tests.

Of course, a lot of things can come into play when you’re testing cellular signals and your mileage may vary. The weather, the distance from the tower, the time of day and resulting use by other people, as well as myriad random things can affect your speeds. But I thought this was a good opportunity to do some real-world, side-by-side comparisons of a couple of services. As we continue our travels, I’ll try to remember to do more of these tests and post the results.

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