Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US

11:00 AM -- So you've just shelled out hundreds of dollars for a new iPhone or Galaxy S III, you've signed away your soul to a carrier for another two years, but have you ever wondered what the best 4G cities in the U.S. are?

I have, and I've been pondering for a while how to figure out the best way to quantify the performance of that most fluid of mediums: wireless networks. Specifically, the new 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless . (See What We Mean When We Say '4G'.)

Well, Verizon now has over 370 LTE networks live. AT&T has 72 live markets and Sprint brings up the rear with 24. AT&T is aiming to have 100 markets live by year's end and Sprint is gunning to have service up in more than 100 town and cities in the coming months. (See iPhone 5: Which 4G Carrier to Pick?)

So I contacted Seattle-based mobile network metrics company RootMetrics to see if they could quantify what the current top 4G LTE cities are. RootMetrics tests networks across "the top 75 urbanized areas" in the U.S. (See iPhone 5 Could Cause Local Data Crunches in US.)

Here's what CEO Bill Moore laid out as the top performing markets for each carrier in the U.S. RootMetrics only had data on the top four markets for Sprint because the operator's LTE networks are so new, first launching in July. (See Sprint Launches 15 Markets in 4G LTE Clusters.)

Table 1: Top 5 4G LTE Cities in the U.S. By Carrier
Carrier AT&T Sprint Verizon
Average downloads in top markets 18Mbit/s-22.5Mbit/s 9Mbit/s-11.5Mbit/s 16Mbit/s-18Mbit/s
Top city Indianapolis Kansas City Kansas City
2nd city Kansas City San Antonio Indianapolis
3rd city St. Louis Atlanta Charlotte
4th city Atlanta Dallas St. Louis
5th city San Antonio N/A San Diego
Source: RootMetrics

No carrier yet has 100 percent 4G LTE coverage in their top markets yet, Moore notes, although Verizon gets closest and AT&T is hitting on or close to 80 percent coverage in its top cities as well. Sprint is pursuing a strategy of turning on markets as soon as it deems it has sufficient street-level coverage and going back and filling in later, so it tends to lag its larger rivals. (See Sprint's 4G LTE Scramble.)

Moore sees a winning city in this early 4G race. "Kansas City across the three networks is the fastest combined city," he says.

Taken in tandem with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s 1-Gig fiber project, this appears to make Kansas City the single fastest wireless and wired broadband city in the U.S. right now. (See KC Gets Google Fiber for Real in October.)

From the RootMetrics data, we can extrapolate that Indianapolis and St. Louis take the silver and bronze, respectively, for 4G performance. San Antonio and Atlanta battle it out for last two slots.

As Moore notes, all of these are smaller cities, and tests in larger areas like the New York metro area can turn in a wide variety of network speeds because some neighborhoods are more built out or easier to deploy than others. It all points to the massive undertaking that deploying 4G in NYC, L.A. or Chicago can be for the carriers.

So, there you have it, check the speeds and let us know how your town or city stacks up against the top 4G performers in the U.S.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:20:11 PM
re: Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US

Meanwhile, on the glass half-empty end of the spectrum, here's TechDirt reviewing why U.S. broadband is generally slow and expensive. Interesting to take in the two pieces in tandem.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:20:06 PM
re: Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US

So which are the worst cities for wireless in the U.S. I've found some terrible spots on the way to New Orleans and around Memphis, what's your experience?

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:20:06 PM
re: Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US

Readers over at DSLReports are also weighing in on this story. One is getting 30MBit/s down on AT&T LTE in San Antonio. Wow!

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:20:03 PM
re: Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US

I think you have apples and oranges here.

The challenge in wireless is the horizontal build in the US.  Remember the distance London to Moscow is 1800 miles.  New York to LA is 2400 miles.   How many carriers spending how much in both case for wireless.

In wireline, the only way to get a big build is to regulate it into existence with making 100Mb/s or 1Gb/s a universal service.  Otherwise, it will be slow, spotty and expensive.

Universal Service requirements are the key.  Maybe remake the access side as ROR.



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