The US has improved in its mobile network performance, though the absence of 5G leaves a lot to be desired.
The newest study by speed test company Ookla shows mixed and ironic results for the US: though download speeds are going up, upload speeds are going down. Mobile download speeds increased 24% between Q1 and Q2 2019 to 33.88Mbps. Upload speeds increased 13% from Q1-Q2 2018, though the numeric increase was rather negligible. The US rose three spots in mobile download speeds but dropped 21 spots in mobile upload speeds in the early part of this year.
The Ookla speed test also examined the nation's four carriers, concluding that AT&T wins in mobile network speeds as the fastest network in the US with a 32.91 speed score. Verizon placed first for mobile network consistency (87.3% acceptable speed ratio) and LTE accessibility (95.9% time spent on LTE). Sprint made some improvements in its network as well with its 2.5GHz spectrum, making it ideal for T-Mobile's upcoming merger and 5G network rollout.
AT&T wins as "Fastest Operator"
AT&T is awarded with Ookla's "Fastest Operator" recognition for its super quick 4G network speeds. It placed first with a speed score of 32.91, some what ahead of T-Mobile (30.94). T-Mobile came in second, a surprise considering Verizon is always on AT&T's heels in many carrier tests, followed by Verizon (29.45) and Sprint (28.15). AT&T's performance speeds improved by 45.1% from Q1-Q2 2018, T-Mobile 9.4%, Verizon 9.5%, and Sprint 36.8%.
As can be seen, all four carriers tend to be a slight ways off from each other in LTE speeds, a good sign for the improvement of mobile networks down the line.
Verizon wins "Consistency of Acceptable Speeds"
Big Red carrier Verizon Wireless has always been rated as the country's most reliable carrier, with its network as "the most reliable 4G LTE network." Ookla's 2019 speed test confirms as much, as the carrier wins again for reliability. Verizon received a reliability score of 87.3 %, trailed slightly by T-Mobile with 86.9%. AT&T placed third in this contest with an 85.2% score, followed by Sprint (81.2%).
In the category of reliability, AT&T made the greatest gain, rising 10.3% from its score in Q1-Q2 2018. T-Mobile's consistency declined by 0.2% from last year. Sprint increased 7.7%, again making gains but Sprint still seems out of the running in network consistency.
Consistency is important, as it indicates how reliable an experience customers will have on a given network. AT&T's speeds are fast, but without consistency, few customers can appreciate mobile speeds.
Consistency in Higher Speeds
Consistency in acceptable speeds refers to reliability at normal mobile speeds, but Ookla also tested consistency in higher speeds to see which carrier is providing faster wireless consistently for its customers. Whereas Verizon wins in acceptable speeds, it placed fourth in higher speed consistency. AT&T came in first, providing the highest number of samples above 100Mbps. Sprint came in second, surprisingly, followed by T-Mobile (third).
Highest Amount of Time Customers Spend on 4G
How much time do customers of a given carrier spend on 4G? That is the question for the next metric measured by the speedtest company Ookla. The average amount of time tells customers just how much they can rely on 4G wireless with a given carrier. In this race, Verizon Wireless came in at #1 with customers staying connected to 4G 95.9% of the time.
Verizon also came in as the best carrier with no coverage, seeing that it has a smaller area of no coverage than its three rivals. T-Mobile came in second in highest 4G time with 91.2%, though T-Mo customers spend more time on 3G than Verizon or Sprint (only AT&T is worse than T-Mobile in 3G time with 7.4%). Sprint came in third with 89.8% and the highest times spent in 4G and 3G roaming. AT&T placed fourth with 87.9%. Its 3G connection was higher than all others.
4G Availability in Rural Areas
How's your 4G service in rural areas? This is a big question for customers who don't always have access to 4G and in some cases, can't access wireless service outside city limits. When it comes to reliability in rural areas, Verizon Wireless wins — but not by much.
Big Red slightly edges out Sprint with a 0.3% point difference (98.3% to Sprint's 98%). All four carriers do rather well in this area, even with T-Mobile's 96.4% and AT&T's 95.8%. There's little to complain about when it comes to 4G availability in rural areas, although these carriers can still do better to reach rural areas. T-Mobile says it intends to bring 5G to rural areas with the Sprint merger on the horizon, a feat that would increase its numbers beyond that of Verizon. For the sake of rural customers, let's hope T-Mobile fulfills its promise.
Speed on Flagship Devices
Customers who purchase flagship devices want flagship wireless speed to go with them, so Ookla also tested wireless performance on the fastest flagships in the industry: the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone XS Max. AT&T, voted the fastest operator, wins in this category, not a surprise since Ma Bell has improved its 4G network this year (even though the "5G Evolution" moniker was really 4G Plus instead).
AT&T has a bigger lead when it comes to speed here, besting second T-Mobile by 4 points (48.26 vs. 44.02). Sprint and Verizon Wireless are even further away when it comes to speed, not surprising considering Sprint's lack of financial resources to take advantage of its 2.5GHz spectrum and Verizon's reliability score. What's even more interesting, however, is that in all the speed tests between the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the Apple iPhone XS Max, the Galaxy S10+ outperformed the iPhone XS Max with all four carriers.
Ookla's 2019 Speed Test Report goes into much more than these metrics, such as the carriers' 5G performance, speed test performance by state, and the fastest providers and best coverage by city. For more information, check out the speed test report link above.
Overall, Ookla's 2019 US Mobile Report shows that the US is making strides in download speeds but has a long way to go in upload speeds. With regard to the four major carriers, AT&T and Verizon still provide the best, though mixed, results for customers. T-Mobile doesn't win many contests (if any), and Sprint desperately needs the T-Mobile merger to go through.