Which iPhone Carrier Is The Best In Your Area? It's Complicated

“But I’ve got bars!” you may have howled at your phone while trying to make a call or show your friend that guy on Facebook from high school who is now in commercials. When it comes to getting good service from your carrier, there are more factors in play than what those little bars are telling you.

CNNMoney dives in deep to figure out which carriers are best for iPhone service in certain areas. It found that there’s a bunch of things to consider — the network’s download speed, response time, signal strength, and the number of cell towers in your area.

Since carriers aren’t so free and easy with their information about their networks, it can be hard to figure out real network performance and compare carriers. CNNMoney looked into things with SwayMarkets and its CarrierCompare iPhone app to gain access to user-generated network data. It analyzed the 3G network data generated by users in Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Here’s what it found:

AT&T is the most inconsistent, with wildly varying speeds depending on the time of the day. The network can get more congested in the afternoon, turning download speeds into a crapshoot, SwayMarkets found. Sure, they can be excellent at times — but are also just mediocre at others.

Verizon has a more consistent experience, with speeds varying less by hour. It also has the quickest network response time, starting to load Web pages faster than other networks after you click on a link. The network starts churning faster than AT&T and Sprint, which makes it feel faster, even if its speeds are slower than AT&T. It also has stronger signal strength than the others.

Sprint comes in last, with 3G speeds less than a third of AT&T’s network in Chicago and L.A. It works best in New York.

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Exclusive: Which iPhone carrier is the best in your city? [CNNMoney]