A new report from IHS Markit's RootMetrics found that Verizon's 4G network, in some cases, provides faster speeds than T-Mobile's new 5G network.
"Verizon's 4G LTE speeds were faster than the lowband 5G median download speeds of T-Mobile in Chicago and Los Angeles and identical to AT&T's lowband 5G median download speed in LA," the firm wrote of its direct tests of operators' wireless network performances.
Verizon wasted no time in crowing about the findings.
"Regardless of any competitor claims, these results back up what our customers already know: Verizon consistently provides the nation's most reliable network experience," Kyle Malady, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Verizon, said in a press release from the company that specifically highlighted RootMetrics' 5G findings as well as the overall results of the study, which pegged Verizon as providing the best overall 4G network. "Our engineers are very proud of these results."
Verizon's preening undoubtedly stems from the constant marketing attacks the company received throughout 2019 from T-Mobile. "Verizon doesn't have the vision OR the resources to match New T-Mobile's potential," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray wrote in September when introducing the company's "verHIDEzon" advertising campaign. The campaign highlighted the fact that Verizon wasn't offering 5G coverage maps (Verizon introduced coverage maps in November).
The bulk of RootMetrics' new report focused on the performance of 4G LTE networks in the US, and included only a small section on 5G. And the company wrote that "it's important to remember that new technologies always take time to expand and mature, and we should see both faster speeds and greater availability over time."
(Disclosure: Light Reading's parent company, Informa, did purchase the analyst division of IHS Markit, but not the RootMetrics unit.)
A matter of spectrum
Previously, T-Mobile warned reviewers and customers that its new lowband 5G network would only be on average 20% faster than its 4G LTE network. And, Verizon's 5G network provides speeds up to 2Gbit/s and beyond.
These speed discrepancies come about largely because of the spectrum each carrier is using. T-Mobile's nationwide 5G service works in the operator's 600MHz lowband spectrum. Meantime, Verizon's 5G network works in the operator's highband, millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum. Due to the nature of physics, FCC-mandated power-output requirements and spectrum allocations, transmissions in lowband spectrum can generally cover wide geographic areas but can't carry much data. Transmissions in highband, mmWave spectrum, on the other hand, can generally carry enormous amounts of data, but can't travel more than a few thousand feet.
What we're left with are two network providing wildly different 5G experiences despite both using the exact same 3GPP-approved transmission technology.
Will Verizon need more spectrum soon?
Although RootMetrics' study recorded impressive performances from Verizon's 4G and 5G networks, a new report from the Wall Street analysts at research firm Lightshed casts clouds over the operator's long-term future.
Lightshed, using data from network-measurement company Opensignal, found that Verizon is rapidly running out of spectrum resources in key markets around the US.
"Based on our analysis, Verizon is down to its last 10 MHz of downlink spectrum in 57% of the population of the top 50 markets," the analysts wrote. "And, at their pace of conversions, we believe that should sustain them for about 12-18 months."
What that means, the Lightshed analysts wrote, is that Verizon's network may soon be stretched to its limits. And, unless Verizon obtains more spectrum or engages in other network-management efforts, it might not be able to support any more customers.
It's worth pointing out that this isn't the first time a Wall Street firm has registered concerns over Verizon's spectrum position. For example, the analysts at New Street Research warned in 2015 that Verizon would rapidly run out of unused spectrum, a situation that would force it to purchase spectrum from the likes of Dish Network. While that didn't happen, Verizon did purchase mmWave spectrum from XO and Straight Path.
Verizon executives have maintained that the operator will be able to keep pace with customer demand. Further, Verizon recently lowered prices for its wireless service, a possible indication that it believes it can support additional customers on its network.
The Lightshed analysts noted that "Verizon's spectrum position has been a nagging concern for investors and it's likely to persist in 2020."