Light Reading

OpenSignal: T-Mobile's LTE Is Fastest

Sarah Thomas
4/1/2014
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T-Mobile has stolen the crown for the fastest LTE network in the US, according to new research from OpenSignal.

The latest "State of US LTE" findings from OpenSignal, which tracks cellular signal strength data from more than 100,000 users via installed Android or iPhone apps, found that T-Mobile US Inc. is "comfortably the fastest network in the US over the last three months, with average speeds of 11.5 Mbps."

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), on the other hand, fared the worst, with average speeds around 4.3 Mbit/s, making it not only the slowest operator in the US, but also one of the slowest networks worldwide.

When it comes to how long the average customer stays on LTE -- an alternative way to measure coverage because infrequent LTE use would suggest users are handed off back to 3G -- Verizon Wireless was the winner. Its average user had access to LTE 82.3% of the time for the past three months. Sprint was again the worst at 56.5%, but T-Mobile only fared slightly better, suggesting its coverage map discrepancy with Verizon is still a real issue. (See T-Mobile Repurposes 2G to Get an LTE Edge.)

The results aren't that surprising as Verizon had an early start on LTE, Sprint is still experiencing growing pains through Network Vision, and T-Mobile's LTE network might be relatively unloaded compared to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon, which have had 4G customers longer. (See Sprint Feels the Churn Burn Before Spark, T-Mobile Plays LTE Catch Up, and Verizon Completes LTE Rollout, Turns to VoLTE.)

But T-Mobile is also working hard at accelerating its LTE network, in terms of deployment timeline and speeds. The carrier spent most of last year upgrading its major markets to the zippier 2x10 MHz LTE channels. As of the end of last year, it had completed 100 markets, including 90% of the top 25 metro areas. It's now working on 20x20 MHz LTE channels, but on a more limited deployment basis. (See T-Mobile Eyes Fatter Pipes for 4G LTE .)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/2/2014 | 4:29:17 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
Ah yes, of courses. That makes sense, although I can't imagine what 4K will look like on a screen as tiny as a smartphone.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/2/2014 | 4:28:24 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
Yes, but there are different video rates: 360p, 480, 720, 1080, and in future 4k.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/2/2014 | 4:25:33 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
That's an interesting concept (more info here: http://www.ericsson.com/news/130926-app-coverage_244129227_c), but isn't video the main app that matters? If you're coverage/throuput/speed is good enough for video streaming, it's going to be sufficient for any app or service you might want to use. You might accept less for a different function, but you'll still need streaming-capable quality at any given time anywhere you go.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/2/2014 | 4:20:15 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
Yes, that's why this notion of App Coverage* is important. If I can stream 720p video, am I unhappy? Probably not.

* An Ericsson term / other phrases also available
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/2/2014 | 4:16:08 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
Good points. Coverage and average speeds at times of high traffic are much more important than theoretical peak speeds, which most people will likely never see.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/2/2014 | 4:13:14 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
Some of those networks have very few users today, and often limited coverage.

Granted Korea and Japan are both in the top division with the US, but they are very dense networks covering dense urban markets. 

Also, people get hung up on peak rate speeds. Coverage is more important, IMO.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/2/2014 | 4:10:10 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
A lot of international carriers use 2x20 MHz whereas the early US networks were 2x10 MHz, so that's part of the explanation.

With AWS and some of the other high-bands (e.g. 2.5GHz) 2x20 MHz deployments are underway. And then Carrier Aggregation is coming on top of that, which boosts peak rates further.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/2/2014 | 2:08:08 PM
Re: U.S. Second Slowest...
I'm surprised by that too. I know we're not the fastest, but second slowest? I'm sure both prepaid and lagging operators like Sprint are bringing down the average. And, operators like SK Telecom make Asia way ahead of the pack, but I don't know why we can't close the gap on all those in between.

I was also surprised that Australia is the fastest country.  
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/2/2014 | 10:50:25 AM
U.S. Second Slowest...
This is the second time in as many months I've heard OpenSignal point out that the United States is the second slowest in terms of average LTE speeds.

Is this in large part due to a lot of slower prepaid options and Sprint's sub-5 Mbps average?
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/2/2014 | 9:26:32 AM
Re: Short-lived advantages
I agree that it's a good measure. Carriers tout their geographic regions covered, but users really care about LTE in the places they need it most, so knowing how often they're able to be connected is just as valuable.

The app also tracks WiFi signal strength, which may make it more practical for users to download, but that makes sense that they'd probably have to be pretty tech savyy (or nerdy) to download it in the first place.
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