Too many have bet on wireless broadband standard WiMAX to see it retire into obsolescence before reaching maturity. But if a recent survey is to be believed, leading WiMAX proponents Clearwire (Nasdaq; CLWR) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) are well behind rivals in delivering data at high speeds.

In more than 1,000 tests across New York City, BTIG Research found that HTC's Thunderbolt smartphone, operating on Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) LTE network, was nine times faster downloading data and five times faster uploading data than the EVO 4G smartphone, operating on Sprint's 4G WiMAX network. Boy Genius Report published the detailed results.

The news follows a report that the Thunderbolt is outselling the iPhone 4 in some locations. BTIG surveyed 150 Verizon stores selling both handsets and found that 28% had sold more Thunderbolts than iPhones. Only 11% of locations had sold more iPhones than Thunderbolts, while 61% had sold an equal amount of each, Computerworld reports.

The message? Speed matters to users, and in some cases they're willing to forgo Apple's iCandy to get it. That has numerous implications:

  • For Sprint, this means losing virtually all leverage in its pricing dispute with Clearwire or facing irrelevance as LTE marches toward mass deployment.
  • For AT&T (NYSE: T), the results create additional pressure to finish backhaul upgrades that would allow fast smartphones to realize their full potential.
  • For Apple, consumers' speed cravings increase the risk of iPhone market-share losses. The next version of the handset, due in the fall, won't be LTE-ready.

And Verizon? It gets to play King of Mobile for at least a while -- good news for the more than 4,400 investors betting on a rally in Motley Fool CAPS.

Do you agree with them? Disagree? Let us know what you think about WiMAX, LTE, and Verizon's network versus those of its peers using the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and has written Apple puts. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is oddly worried about a hangnail. Don't ask us why.