T-Mobile US has topped the latest nationwide network test surveys conducted by Open Signal, while AT&T and Verizon finally put a stop to the decline in their 4G speeds that began after the reintroduction of unlimited data plans in February 2017. In tests conducted in the fourth quarter of 2017, T-Mobile scored best in both 3G and 4G availability and download speeds, while AT&T achieved the top score for 4G latency.
According to the report, T-Mobile continues to take advantage of the challenges faced by AT&T and Verizon since network congestion due to high use of unlimited data plans reduced their 4G speeds. T-Mobile averaged LTE downloads of 19.4 Mbps in the Q4 measurements, whereas Verizon averaged 17.8 Mbps, AT&T 13.3 Mbps and Sprint 12.0 Mbps.
AT&T led Open Signal’s 4G latency rankings with an LTE network ping time of 58.3 milliseconds. T-Mobile was in second place but again came in first in the remaining five metrics, including 3G and 4G availability. Open Signal also noted that Sprint’s 4G availability and speed continued to improve in the latest round of tests, bridging what was a large gap between itself and its competitors.
Discussions of unlimited data packages often hinge on the idea of the possible tradeoff between subscriber acquisition and revenue loss. Open Signal’s speed rankings, however, shed a different light on the matter, showing how the impact on network speeds can be a serious consequence of making 4G/LTE data available on an unlimited basis.
After U.S. mobile market leaders AT&T and Verizon relaunched unlimited data service (after some negative experiences involving regulatory reprimands having to do with issues of throttling and transparency with regard to throttling), they saw average download speeds decline, because of network congestion that even fair-usage restrictions could not sufficiently mitigate. According to the current report, it was this network congestion that opened the door for T-Mobile to challenge the big two and then move to first place in speed, as well as other significant categories including availability.
Of course, in addition to boasting of its network capacities, T-Mobile also offers unlimited data as part of its T-Mobile One suite of plans, so it could end up facing the same challenges that AT&T and Verizon during 2017. Only vigorous network infrastructure development could prevent that happening; we can surmise that the recent recovery of AT&T and Verizon in terms of speed are due to precisely this development. Given the key importance of network speed to an operator’s competitive viability, the customer-attracting power of unlimited data can only be maintained consistently if it does hand in hand with investment into the network.