T-Mo is crowing about OpenSignal’s testing. AT&T touts Ookla’s analysis. Verizon brags about its RootMetrics rankings.
Within the past week, each of the three national carriers has captured a series of accolades from different benchmarking and analysis companies, a state of affairs that reflects both different testing approaches and networks in flux.
While the details of the horse-races in each category differ, the testing still provides a picture of broad strokes overall—none of which are particularly surprising: 5G availability is increasing as carriers continue their build-outs. T-Mobile US is seeing benefits from its ability to leverage the spectrum portfolio that it acquired from its merger with Sprint. Verizon’s turn-up of Dynamic Spectrum appears to have succeeded at increasing its 5G coverage, but impacted its network speeds to at least some extent.
In OpenSignal’s 5G testing, all three carriers had improvements in 5G network availability, or the amount of time that devices connected to 5G networks. Verizon won the top spot in mobile video experience and 4G coverage, and on a national basis, AT&T had the fastest overall download speeds while T-Mo had the fastest overall upload speeds. T-Mobile US took the top spot in 5G average download speeds, which the carrier has jumped to highlight along with a network audit that it commissioned from benchmarking company umlaut that shows T-Mo’s 5G network as outperforming its competitors in the specific markets of Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Houston.
“The different maturity and geographic focus of each carrier’s initial 5G roll out is clear from the different 5G Download Speed scores seen across states,” OpenSignal said. While it was possible to see 5G download speeds of 70+ Mbps on each of the carriers, it was happening in different states: AT&T 5G users could attain those speeds in Maryland and Washington, Verizon users could get that in New York and T-Mobile US network users saw those speeds in Alabama, Illinois, New York and New Jersey.
Ookla has ranked AT&T as the fastest U.S. mobile network operator during the fourth quarter of 2020, followed by T-Mobile US, Sprint’s former network (Ookla is still ranking T-Mo and Sprint’s networks separately) and Verizon Wireless in fourth place. There is a difference of about 10 points between AT&T’s score and Verizon’s. The widespread turn-up of 4G/5G Dynamic Spectrum Sharing to expand 5G network availability appears to have impacted Verizon’s overall network speed. When Ookla analyzed only speedtests taken over a 5G connection, AT&T again came out on top, with Verizon in last place.
“This large drop in performance for Verizon Wireless is to be expected as the network expanded dramatically over the past quarter, a process that included using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) to expand from mmWave-only to sub-6 GHz 5G and the addition of many new users over a broader footprint — both of which tend to bring down average performance,” Ookla said. Independent testing firm Signals Research Group has also concluded that, based on its testing of DSS in Verizon’s network, “significant inefficiencies across all network geometries relative to LTE performance in the same band. … The inefficiencies hurt LTE and 5G NR performance.”
RootMetrics, however, provided a high-level view of its network benchmarking in the second half of 2020 and awarded Verizon with its top accolades, saying that the carrier had the fastest network speeds (in terms of aggregate median download speed) and “exceptional” network reliability across the most states and metro areas, resulting in an overall national picture of its network that put the carrier ahead of its competitors. Verizon has a history of doing very well in RootMetrics’ testing. The carrier officially launched DSS in October 2020, so at least some of RootMetrics’ second-half testing would have registered the use of DSS; RootMetrics won’t publish its full analysis of its data until February 3. AT&T came in second in RootMetrics’ rankings and T-Mobile US third.
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