The last couple of years have marked serious change in the wireless industry. While 4G LTE used to just be a selling point on the newest phones it’s become more of a selling point on each wireless carrier, with each company using some tag line about how they’ve got the best LTE network speed or coverage. Marketing speak and real-world usage can be two completely different things however, so how do the carriers actually stack up against their marketing terms when put to the test? OpenSignal has gathered data from the past few years of testing and has put it together in a handy little report detailing the state of LTE networks in the US and how coverage vs speed have had an inverse relationship over the past few years. OpenSignal collects this network data based on users that have the OpenSignal app installed, and this report was assembled using the data of 103,025 OpenSignal users. It should come to no one’s surprise that Verizon has the best coverage of any of the major networks, particularly when it comes to LTE. Verizon was the first to push LTE as its new network standard over the severely aging CDMA 3G network it once touted, and because of this they’ve got the largest LTE network with the most coverage.
The advantage they have isn’t quite as massive as their latest series of ads might suggest as you can see from the above graph, but at 83% of customers using LTE it’s significant enough to where it’s worth mentioning, and the advantage for Verizon customers over any other network in the US will be felt no matter where they go. AT&T brings up second at a fairly distant 71%, with T-Mobile at 61% and Sprint bringing up the rear at 57%. Following coverage comes speed, and here the results are a little more surprising, although not incredibly so if you dig a little deeper into the data. T-Mobile now has the fastest LTE network of all 4 major national carriers, pulling an average 11.5Mbps download speed on its nationwide network. AT&T is next in line with an average 9.1Mbps, Verizon has 7.8Mbps and Sprint once again is at the bottom of the pile with 4.3Mbps average LTE download speed. The real enemy of speed here is throughput of the network and overall saturation, with more customers on Verizon and AT&T than T-Mobile and Sprint combined, those networks are naturally going to have a harder time keeping up no matter the size of the infrastructure. Sprint still shows that it needs to work on its network overall, and it’s not just coverage that’s causing issues for Sprint customers. T-Mobile’s network has been built up in the last year from no LTE to being mostly LTE in metro areas, but they likely don’t have as many users with an LTE compatible mobile phone since most people tend to buy phones every other year or so whereas Verizon and AT&T have had LTE for much longer time periods.