Mobile/Wireless Testing

Sprint Versus T-Mobile: Which Metrics Matter?

There's something new for T-Mobile and Sprint to battle about, and this time there are metrics to back it up. RootMetrics says that Sprint has passed T-Mobile in best overall network performance. It's still a fight for bronze, but an important one nonetheless.

RootMetrics ' latest study of the US wireless networks, which tested network performance for data, voice and text across the country in the second half of the year, found that Verizon Wireless is holding tight to the highest-quality network across the country with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in a close second place. (See Verizon Leads With Double-Wide 4G and AT&T Claims Most Reliable 4G LTE Network.)

But, the third and fourth place finishers have seen a shakeup with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s network performing better overall than T-Mobile US Inc. 's in both its national and statewide tests.

As you can imagine, Sprint was pretty excited about this news. It's good ammo against T-Mobile's CEO John Legere, who is fond of calling Sprint's network crap, a "pile of spectrum" or other more colorful jibes. The two are taking slightly different views of the report, however. (See T-Mob's Legere Unleashed: 'Total Chaos at Sprint' and T-Mobile Pours Cold Water on Sprint's Spark.)

Sprint beat out T-Mobile for overall network quality due in large parts to its strength in calling and text. For example, in the first half of 2014, Sprint finished dead last in call performance, but in the second half of the year, it easily passed T-Mobile thanks to its voice-centric upgrades. (See RootMetrics: Sprint Ranked Last in Wireless in Kansas City and Sprint's Hesse: HD Voice Goes Nationwide in July .)

It was also helped by T-Mobile's relative weakness outside of major metro areas, where it's currently trying to upgrade its network. T-Mobile was second only to reigning network quality champ Verizon in most of the top 30 major metro markets.

Where T-Mobile also beat Sprint was in RootMetrics' speed index and data performance categories at the national level. As the carrier was quick to point out, these data metrics carry more weight -- or at least will eventually. That's not to say voice and text quality do not matter, but the end goal for operators is to make voice, text and data one in the same. (See Sprint Plans WiFi + Lync Enterprise Bundle.)

Once voice-over LTE (VoLTE) is truly nationwide and the quality is on par with 3G calling, the operators the operator will begin to refarm their 3G networks for LTE and everything will be treated as data. That is still years off, but it is the end goal. Eventually only data will matter.

Read more about mobile network strategies on the 4G LTE channel here on Light Reading.

This is something Sprint understands, and even though it hasn't yet laid out its VoLTE roadmap, it certainly knows how important improving its data network is to its future. Chief Network Officer John Saw reiterated all the steps Sprint is taking to get there in a blog post today.

Even so, RootMetrics findings should be encouraging for Sprint, and they should be encouraging for the entire industry. They are evidence networks are continuously improving and operator investments are paying off. At the least, they are good marketing fodder.

But, when RootMetrics' future reports start to only look at data, because that's the only network that exists, that's when things will get really interesting.

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

Phil_Britt 2/17/2015 | 7:38:16 AM
Figures Lie, Liars Figure I don't know that either metric is superior. What will make the difference for each consumer is what works best in his or her own situation. That's discovered through communicating with others with similar needs/uses of the service moreso than through third-party tests.
sarahthomas1011 2/10/2015 | 7:17:26 PM
testing considerations There are several companies that do network tests and several methodologies for doing so (i.e. drive testing, devices, crowdsourced, etc.), but I would say RootMetrics is one of the most comprehensive and reliable reports. 

Also keep in mind that indoor versus outdoor usage is a big factor, as is geography -- that made up the biggest differences for Sprint versus T-Mobile. Knowing the reputations of the operators and their marketing messages is important, but you always have to test in your home market -- and your home -- first. The worst if when you find out your home is a dead zone even if the operator has good coverage on the whole.
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