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Which Mobile Carrier has the Best Network in the US?

Recent cellular network tests by RootMetrics, Opensignal and Ookla tracked and analyzed the performance of the main three mobile carriers in the U.S.: Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

In RootMetrics' tests, which looked at both 4G and 5G connections, Verizon performed well across the board. Opensignal and Ookla, focusing more on 5G performance and download speeds, saw high scores from T-Mobile. AT&T finished in the middle of the pack in many test categories. 

The carriers were tested over different time periods: Ookla and Opensignal focused on Q1 of 2021, and RootMetrics' analysis was for the second half of 2020. 

RootMetrics

RootMetrics tested the entire country, states and 125 major cities, in its “State of the Mobile Union” report for the second half of 2020. Its study focused on six categories. 

RootMetrics used Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G cell phones for its tests, on 4G, LTE and 5G connections, at different times of day and on the ground and in vehicles. RootMetrics wanted the study to represent where cellular customers would actually be as they used their network connection. 

RootMetrics did not focus as much on 5G connection as the other two tests. Although its results are less 5G-centric, RootMetrics did analyze some 5G connectivity. RootMetrics expects improving 5G statistics in metro areas as all three carriers expand 5G farther into cities.

The following table shows RootMetrics' nationwide RootScores:

Test Categories

Verizon

AT&T

T-Mobile

Reliability

1st

2nd

3rd

Accessibility

1st

2nd

3rd

Speed

1st

2nd

3rd

Data

1st

2nd

3rd

Call

1st

2nd

3rd

Text

2nd

1st

3rd

Verizon received nationwide scores from RootMetrics in the mid-90s. AT&T's scores were close, ranging from 90.9 to 96.8. T-Mobile scored in the mid-80s to low-90s, not far behind Verizon and AT&T.

Verizon

Verizon topped each test category except for texting. Its median download speed was 40 Mbps. In metro performance, Verizon ran away with the RootMetrics tallies, scoring 790 (over twice AT&T and more than five times T-Mobile). 

T-Mobile

RootMetrics highlighted T-Mobile's widespread adoption of 5G. T-Mobile received the lowest overall median download speeds, but it had at least 20-Mbps-speeds in many cities, a good rate for downloading over mobile devices.

RootMetrics also noted T-Mobile's recent acquisition of Sprint, which took time and effort to integrate, and the way it will perform in future years. 

AT&T

AT&T received the fastest median download score for metro areas as well as the best metro text performance. 

At the state level, RootMetrics called AT&T's performance strong and gave it the highest score for text awards. 

An employee uses their mobile smartphone in the city. Courtesy Adobe.

An employee uses their mobile smartphone in the city. Courtesy Adobe.

Opensignal

Opensignal's Q1 2021 network testing focused only on 5G speeds and connections. Its “5G User Experience Report” highlights T-Mobile's 5G availability. T-Mobile won five out of the seven Opensignal Mobile Experience awards.

The following table shows three test categories, which T-Mobile won, and the median speeds in megabits per second:

Test Categories

Verizon

T-Mobile

AT&T

5G Download Speed

47.4 Mbps

58.1 Mbps

53.8 Mbps

Upload Speed

11.9 Mbps

14.0 Mbps

8.0 Mbps

Download Speed Experience — 5G Users (5G phone and plan)

41.1 Mbps

47.6 Mbps

42.2 Mbps

Verizon 

Although it didn't score as well as T-Mobile and sometimes AT&T in 5G-only categories, Verizon won the 5G user experience category, which accounts for non-5G connections as well. This win indicates that Verizon still performs comparably to the other providers.

T-Mobile

Tested T-Mobile customers had a 5G connection 30 percent of the time. T-Mobile's widespread 5G coverage allows its customers to benefit from low-band 5G frequently.

"T-Mobile users saw average 5G download speed of over 70 Mbps in four states: Alabama, Illinois, New York state and New Jersey," Opensignal's report says in its Regional Analysis.

The report explains that while each carrier’s fastest 5G download speeds were over 70 Mbps, T-Mobile was the only carrier to report such speeds in four states. This compares to two for AT&T and one for Verizon.

AT&T

AT&T’s performance often landed the company in the second-place spot. 

AT&T scored 18.8 percent of overall 5G availability, sitting solidly between first-place T-Mobile and third-place Verizon. 

AT&T also scored 62.5 points in 5G video experience, coming just a couple points behind Verizon and edging out T-Mobile. 

In the state performance breakdowns, AT&T performed notably well in California, Oregon and Washington, where it received the highest scores in two out of the seven categories.

Ookla

Ookla, also known as speedtest.net, saw T-Mobile as the fastest overall carrier in its Q1 2021 report

This report also marked Ookla's first overall national report. Previously, they tested using competitive geographies, a method for ensuring that regions with different levels of carrier availability are treated fairly.

The following table lists the three carriers' statistics in three categories from Ookla's testing. 

Test Categories

Verizon

T-Mobile

AT&T

5G Time Spent (for Android users with 5G phones)

36.2%

65.4%

31.0%

Consistency (5 Mbps min download speed, 1 Mbps min upload speed)

81.6%

84.8%

83.5%

5G Performance (5G median download speeds)

67.24 Mbps

82.35 Mbps

76.6 Mbps

Verizon

Verizon scored closely to both T-Mobile and AT&T in its download and upload speed consistency. All three carriers clocked good performance here. 

Verizon lagged in its statewide median download speeds compared to AT&T and T-Mobile. Metropolitan median download speeds compared closely to T-Mobile's, but AT&T was far ahead in city download speed performance. 

Verizon scored the fastest median download speeds in the District of Columbia.

T-Mobile

One of the most impressive numbers of the entire report is the percentage of T-Mobile customers who maintained a 5G connection on their 5G Android: 65.4%. While this percentage doesn't account for iPhone users, it shows how broadly available T-Mobile has made its 5G over the past two years. Verizon’ and AT&T's 5G time spent scores are in the 30-percent range.

AT&T

AT&T shined in median download speeds, where it ranks highest in 30 states. The other carriers don't come close in this category. Thirty-seven other states were too close to call. AT&T also scored the highest median download speed in 33 of 100 tested cities, while T-Mobile and Verizon were the highest in 15 and 14 cities.

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network, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, 4G LTE, tmobile, 5G, cellular, carrier