Our latest national report on the State of Mobile Networks in the U.S. recognized T-Mobile as the winner in almost all of our categories, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of competition. Verizon took second place in several of our key metrics, in some cases by the narrowest of margins. This intense competition becomes even clearer as we zoom in on how the operators ranked across five regions: The Northeast, The Southeast, The Midwest, the Southwest and the West.
In our national report, released in January, we saw T-Mobile win our 4G availability award by just a hair: while its users were able to access 4G connections an average 93.1% of the time, Verizon was close on its heels with scores of 92.7%.
As we look at their performance in each of the five regions, their race becomes even more evident and it’s clear Verizon is not ready to give up on the 4G availability crown. In fact, it was able to take the lead in two of the regions: the Midwest and the Southeast with scores of 93.4% and 92% respectively. Meanwhile the two operators tied for our availability award in the remaining three regions.
The picture was very different a year ago, when Verizon was the clear winner in LTE availability across all five regions, while T-Mobile was the consistent runner-up. But users on Sprint’s services were the ones who saw the greatest improvement in their 4G reach in the past year. The operator managed to increase its 4G availability score by close to 10 percentage points across all five regions.
Meanwhile in the Southwest, AT&T and Sprint achieved their best results with 4G availability scores of 89.6% and 87.6% respectively, while Verizon's and T-Mobile's results held steady, both just barely falling short of the 93% mark.
Though LTE availability in the world’s largest economy is impressive -- placing it among the top 5 in our global rankings -- speeds are a different story. In fact, we found that average 4G download speeds in the U.S. across all networks were not able to meet the global average of 16.9 Mbps.
In our national report, we saw T-Mobile win our speed award, with users experiencing average download speeds of 19.4 Mbps, almost 2 Mbps higher than runner-up Verizon (17.7 Mbps). Verizon is still feeling the hit it took by introducing unlimited data plans over a year ago causing its speeds to temporarily plummet. Verizon speeds have recovered to pre-unlimited plan levels, but, over the same period, T-Mobile have increased steadily in our measurements, allowing it to establish a significant lead over Verizon.
On a regional level, the four operators found themselves in the tightest speed race in the West were we saw T-Mobile and Verizon statistically tied for our 4G speed award at 17.6 Mbps and 18 Mbps respectively, followed by AT&T and Sprint whose users experienced average speeds of 14.4 Mbps. The two leaders also tied in 4G speed in the Midwest, while T-Mobile won our regional 4G speed awards in the Northeast, the Southeast and the Southwest. But the Southwest is still among the slowest regions in the country, with almost all operators performing at their lowest in our tests. T-Mobile couldn’t crack the 18 Mbps mark, Verizon sunk below 15 Mbps, and Sprint was not able cross the 10 Mbps threshold, according to our data.
The US mobile market had some unexpected twists and turns in 2017, with a failed Sprint - T-Mobile merger and the declining speeds on AT&T and Verizon’s networks as an aftereffect of unlimited data plans. If the past year is any indication of what the new one will bring, we’re in for quite an exciting one in 2018.