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Summary:

While the data paints a good picture of the state of the current 4G device base, newer souped-up networks are delivering faster absolute speeds.

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photo: Shutterstock / Kittisak

At CES earlier this year, T-Mobile CEO John Legere made the claim that T-Mobile’s LTE network is the fastest in the U.S. I questioned that claim, but on Tuesday the first independent report emerged backing up Legere’s boast. In its study of U.S. LTE connections conducted in February, OpenSignal found that T-Mobile had the speediest networks of the top four carriers.

T-Mobile download speeds averaged 11.5 Mbps, beating out AT&T, Verizon and especially Sprint, which clocked average speeds of 4.3 Mbps, according to OpenSignal’s report. Those results contradict a recent report released by RootMetrics, showing AT&T still held the speed crown, but Root’s data was older, compiled through intensive drive testing in the last six months of 2013.

Source: OpenSignal

Source: OpenSignal

So if speed is your aim does that mean you should automatically go with T-Mobile? Not necessarily. OpenSignal’s metrics are based on data crowdsourced from its iPhone and Android apps. They’re recording the speeds the large body of devices already in the field are experiencing. But as I wrote previously, in absolute terms there are faster networks out there, which anyone buying the latest generation smartphone or tablet will be able to access.

Verizon has launched a big network upgrade that doubles or triples its capacity in cities across the country. Those networks can support anywhere from 50 percent to double the speeds that T-Mobile can offer. The catch is only newer phones can tap the frequencies of those networks. Anyone with a new iPhone 5s or 5c, Galaxy S4 or pretty much any high-end smartphone released this year should be able to tap those speeds.

While OpenSignal's tests show T-Mobile's LTE connections are the fastest,  Verizon and AT&T's 4G networks are in more places

While OpenSignal’s tests show T-Mobile’s LTE connections are the fastest, Verizon and AT&T’s 4G networks are in more places (Source: OpenSignal)

Similarly, AT&T is in the middle of a network upgrade, bonding together big LTE channels through an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation. AT&T is further behind Verizon in its upgrade plans, and so far it only has a single smartphone, the HTC One M8, that can tap those networks, but other devices will soon follow. Sprint’s new souped-up Spark network is also emerging, but the rollout is going so slow, it — like AT&T’s aggregated networks — will take a while before we see any major impact.

That said, T-Mobile is also upgrading its networks. Starting in Dallas and Las Vegas it’s doubled its downlink capacity and it plans to expand that upgrade to many of its metro markets by the end of the year. At the point T-Mobile’s networks indisputably will be the fastest in the country.

OpenSignal's crowdsourced data shows T-Mobile has been beating out its competitors in speed since its network launched (source: OpenSignal)

OpenSignal’s crowdsourced data shows T-Mobile has been beating out its competitors in speed since its network launched (source: OpenSignal)

 

  1. I moved from T mobile to At&t a few months ago. The coverage, and relative signal strength on AT&T’s network (in and around metro boston) is just massively better. There’s a reason why AT&T and VZW can command the premium they do – it’s that at the end of the day while speed is important, baseline coverage (and signal strength) is primary.

    Does any organization measure signal strength?

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