A Surprising Winner Emerges in New US Mobile Networks Test
Another year, another massive national coverage test over the entire United States. Our colleagues at PCMag have been rounding up data on how US wireless mobile network speeds compare, city by city, in its Fastest Mobile Networks series for 12 years now. After a long run of near-total Verizon domination, an upstart has seized the title: T-Mobile.
According to PCMag’s Sascha Segan:
The carrier’s new mid-band 5G network is the only nationwide 5G that’s markedly faster than 4G, earning T-Mobile its first-ever PCMag award for America’s fastest mobile network.
In our 12th annual test, drivers traveled a total of 10,626 miles, surveying 30 major US metro areas and six rural regions to find out the state of 5G from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. T-Mobile took a commanding lead in 5G, winning 24 cities and rural regions to AT&T’s eight and Verizon’s two; we also saw one tie between T-Mobile and Verizon and one tie between T-Mobile and AT&T.
Unlike its competitors, T-Mobile has focused on rolling out mid-band 5G. Mid-band 5G has benefits and drawbacks. As a benefit, it offers moderately improved wireless performance and reasonable range requirements. As a drawback, it doesn’t enable the kind of crazy speeds the wireless industry has pushed as 5G’s supposed game-changing features.
Verizon’s maximum download performance is nearly 2x T-Mobile’s, but T-Mobile’s average performance is 1.73x faster. In upload — a category that’s become vastly more important for every class of device, thanks to the pandemic — T-Mobile blows Verizon out of the water, with 31 percent faster uploads and a slightly higher time spent above 3Mbps. Verizon led on network availability and latency, so the news isn’t all bad.
If you look through the charts of results by region, a pattern emerges. AT&T is the only company whose 5G network has a fair chance of being slower than its 4G, but it also offers the fastest 4G results nationwide. If you’re a T-Mobile 4G user and your device’s network speed is an issue, it might be worth upgrading to 5G. Right now, T-Mobile customers are the group with the best chance of being able to use the new network technology. High-frequency mmWave 5G can deliver faster performance than T-Mobile’s network, but only if you’re in an area where service is available. The pandemic was terrible for this kind of network configuration. Verizon and AT&T bet on dense deployments in downtown areas and then a hefty chunk of the population stayed home for most of a year. Verizon does not offer high 5G performance as consistently as T-Mobile, but its network still provides an overall boost compared to 4G.
There’s a lot more information in PCMag’s report, including an exhaustive breakdown of where T-Mobile coverage is and isn’t good, and a discussion of how much the midrange market has changed in just the past year. T-Mobile’s performance has exploded while AT&T and Verizon have declined slightly.
ET’s guidance has been that there’s no reason to rush on 5G and that the technology will need another few years to mature before it becomes a must-have. T-Mobile’s rapid improvement is a promising beginning, and of course, the latest phones are all 5G-capable. But there’s no online content that requires 5G right now and there won’t be for several years. If you haven’t leaped for 5G yet, you aren’t missing out.