Tests of broadband speed and reliability recently conducted throughout the United States by network testing company RootMetrics gave Verizon Wireless, the nation’s number-one operator, the highest overall ranking of 93.5 out of 100. AT&T, the second-largest MNO, ranked second overall with a score of 91.3. Sprint, with an 86.3 edged out T-Mobile, which received an 83.5. However, when it came to network speeds, while Verizon led across the board, results were somewhat different for the rest of the four major operators. In the second half of 2014, Verizon’s average download speeds were 10 Mbps or better in 122 cities, while T-Mobile was close behind with an average of 10 Mbps or better in 108 cities. AT&T came in third with 93 cities. The gap widened when speeds of 20 Mbps or more were considered: Verizon achieved that level of service in 40 cities, T-Mobile in 20 and AT&T in just 14.
While it is hardly surprising that Verizon, with its superior resources, comes in a clear first in overall performance and speed alike, the fact that T-Mobile is close on its heels speaks volumes about its strategy and the seriousness of its challenge to the top two MNOs. Without having the capacity in terms of spectrum that Verizon does, T-Mobile has managed to reconfigure its networks in such as way as to be able to produce high speeds in many markets though not in all. AT&T, on the other hand, is pursuing an incremental approach of improving speed gradually in all markets, with the result that at least for the moment, it comes in behind T-Mobile, and more so with regard to the highest speeds. T-Mobile’s footprint is smaller, but it has chosen to shine where it comes to speed. While we do not know how the speed wars will shake out in the long run, at least for now T-Mobile’s strategy has made it look very good for its size and to mount a serious competitive challenge to the big two operators.