Mobile/Wireless Testing

RootMetrics Crowns Verizon Top-Performing LTE Again

No matter how you slice or spin it, Verizon Wireless's LTE network is still the strongest in the US, according to RootMetric's latest nationwide survey.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), however, is hot on its heels while T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) are showing improvements, but clearly have their favored geographies -- rural for Sprint and metro for T-Mobile.

There are several vendors that test wireless operator network performance, but RootMetrics is among the most comprehensive. Its testers spent the first half of the year driving 237,000 miles -- equivalent to ten times around the world -- to test LTE across big cities, small towns and rural areas in the US, in addition to 7,323 indoor spots. The company also issues reports on venues, airports and specific states, but this is its biggest report of the year. (See T-Mobile Aims to Close Map Gap on Its Own, Verizon Still Best Network, RootMetrics Finds and OpenSignal: T-Mobile's LTE Is Fastest.)

The report for the first half of 2015, released Tuesday, crowns Verizon Wireless the overall network performance winner, as it has in years past. Verizon also won for network reliability, speed, data performance and call performance (via 3G only) with AT&T in a close second in every category. The only category it lost out in was text performance, which AT&T won.

For more on the wireless network wars in the US, visit the dedicated mobile content section here on Light Reading.

The overall results encompass both metro and less populous rural areas, but the story is quite different in each. T-Mobile, for example, continues to be strong in metro areas, but fell behind in rural markets despite having low-band spectrum now deployed in 141 markets. (See T-Mobile Puts Low-Band to Work and T-Mobile: Going Bananas for Low-Band .)

Sprint, on the other hand, has been slowly improving in major cities, but saw the most improvements in rural markets, where it has roaming LTE partnerships with local carriers. (See Sprint Turns Up 16 More 2.5GHz Markets and Sprint Adds First 12 LTE Rural Roaming Partners.)

Owing to those strengths, Sprint actually finished ahead of T-Mobile in overall performance, network reliability and text performance. RootMetrics says, "In most categories, Sprint's scores showed progress in terms of closing the gap with the leaders from prior testing." (See Sprint Promises Better LTE on Lower Capex.)

T-Mobile did, however, beat Sprint in the all-important categories of network speed and data performance. (See Sprint Versus T-Mobile: Which Metrics Matter?)

"T-Mobile recorded median download speeds faster than 10 Mbps in 102 of the 125 metro areas we tested, with speeds faster than 20 Mbps in 45 of those markets," the report reads. "T-Mobile's tally of topline speeds was second only to that of Verizon (51), but far surpassed those of AT&T (11) and Sprint (0)."

Carriers often use these types of reports to back up their advertising claims and reinforce their images. More than ever, however, these images have been in flux. In the past six months alone, T-Mobile has stepped up its LTE speeds -- and its trash talk; Sprint has continued to promise further network improvement; Verizon has maintained its superiority and AT&T has just made up its own metric in "strongest LTE signal." (See T-Mobile Customers Use the Most LTE Data, Sprint CEO Claims Next-Gen Network Will Be #1, Verizon's 4G Strength Keeps It Above the Fray and AT&T Sends Strong Signal in New Ads.)

Taken together, the results also suggest that competition in the US has had a positive effect on networks here, encouraging the operators to invest more and improve performance across the board (while also adjusting their price plans and offers). Check out the full report here.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner 8/18/2015 | 6:28:43 PM
Sarah Thomas 8/18/2015 | 3:17:10 PM
Re: AT&T's metrics It won't reveal the source, which is highly suspect as is the metric itself. Prettiest cell towers is def T-Mobile in magenta.
Mitch Wagner 8/18/2015 | 3:10:41 PM
AT&T's metrics AT&T made up its metrics? I like it.

How about:

 - Prettiest cell towers

- Tallest average height for network engineers

- Neatest desks
Sarah Thomas 8/18/2015 | 1:06:44 PM
T-Mobile responds T-Mobile took issue with the entire RootMetrics report, but also my assertion that they fell behind in the rural markets. To clarify, a spokesperson writes:

"The reason we "fell behind" has nothing to do with actual performance and everything to do with how "drive tests" work.  Two huge issues as it relates to our low-band deployments:
  • We've added 30 million new pops in more than 100 markets just within the timeframe of Root's testing so none of that is captured.
  • Root used a device, the Galaxy S5 that doesn't even have a Band 12 radio so even in the areas that we had rolled out 700Mhz spectrum, they weren't able to test it.

I hope you can understand our frustration here.  It's not rocket science: we've invested more heavily than our competitors and we have a track record of successful network rollouts.  This particular report almost entirely glosses over those data points."

Sarah Thomas 8/18/2015 | 10:05:51 AM
Re: Sprint's improvements Funny to see all the operators reacting to the report now -- Sprint with acceptance and trash-talking on T-Mobile; Verizon lauding it; and T-Mobile saying how it's crap and not true or indicative of its actual performance. Seems a bit silly to me, as it would definitely be praising it if the results were different.
Sarah Thomas 8/18/2015 | 7:38:26 AM
Sprint's improvements Sprint CTO John Saw released a statement on the RootMetrics report, focusing on how Sprint is improving and, of course, that it beat out T-Mobile in overall performance again. He also discussed how Sprint will continue to improve its network using its spectrum holdings. He says:

"A key strategy for improving our network is to densify and increase our number of cell sites across our 2.5GHz, 1.9GHz and 800MHz spectrum bands. This will include adding thousands of new macro sites to expand coverage, and it will include a continued expansion of our 2.5 GHz LTE footprint."...

"Even more exciting though is our plan to initially deploy tens of thousands of small cells, with the potential to increase that deployment over time."

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