T-Mobile US swept the latest network test awards competition given by Open Signal, the U.K.-based company specializing in mobile network coverage mapping. Rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless showed a drop in 4G/LTE speeds. In tests conducted in April to June, T-Mobile scored best in availability, download speeds and latency.
Compared to the last tests, which Open Signal conducted in February 2017, Verizon showed a drop in average 4G speed of 2 Mbps, to 14.9 Mbps, which the market researcher said was likely attributable to the launch of unlimited data plans by the operator. AT&T’s speed dropped to 12.9 Mbps from 13.9 Mbps in the previous report. T-Mobile and Sprint, which have been offering unlimited data for a longer period, both showed improved average speeds of 17.5 Mbps and 9.8 Mbps, respectively.
T-Mobile also became the first U.S. operator to surpass the benchmark of 90 percent 4G availability in the tests, achieving 90.9 percent. Verizon was close behind with 4G available 89.8 percent of the time.
T-Mobile’s “Un-carrier” strategy has been widely noted for its aggressiveness in terms of plan features and pricing, and indeed has transformed the U.S. mobile market, with rival operators having to follow suit by offering no-subsidy smartphones and similar unlimited offerings. However, the major countervailing factor has been the perception that T-Mobile’s network did not match up to its plans, or even that the advantages of its generous plan features would be vitiated by the lack of quality and coverage of its signal. The recent test by Open Signal, while certainly not conclusive, strongly indicates that this is not currently an issue.
Open Signal itself acknowledged that T-Mobile may be getting higher ratings on availability due to its focus on urban areas. In the 4G speed category, Verizon won in six markets and tied for the top spot in 24 markets, while T-Mobile won in four markets and tied for the top in 25 markets.
In any case, this test is a timely reminder that as operators compete to devise ever-more creative plans with novel value-added features to lure customers, network performance is key and cannot be neglected. Consumers need speed, coverage and reliability; if these are not sufficient, any operator is likely to lose its competitive advantage.