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USA Fixed Broadband Experience — MSA View — June 2024

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This report takes a deep look into the localized fixed broadband experience of our American users, focusing on the 20 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and the largest broadband providers within them.

 

This is the second in a two-part series of reports on the U.S. fixed broadband experience. The first report focused on the national broadband experience of the five Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with the most extensive service areas: AT&T, Spectrum (Charter), T-Mobile, Verizon, and Xfinity (Comcast).

In this report, we have examined real-world data from our U.S. fixed broadband users. We look at four key measures of the broadband user experience: Broadband Download Speed, Broadband Upload Speed, Broadband Consistent Quality, and Broadband Video Experience. Together, these measures capture the wide range of ways that households use broadband services, ranging from remote work and education to video streaming and gaming.

Key findings:

  • In the four top MSAs where it operates, Verizon Fios has a very strong showing, winning all four awards outright in the New York and Philadelphia MSAs, winning three awards outright, and sharing Download Speed in the Washington MSA. It is also top for both speed awards in Boston and shares first place for Consistent Quality and Video Experience.
  • AT&T Fiber operates in 10 of the top 20 MSAs, and is 1st place for both Download and Upload speed in all of them. AT&T wins all four awards — either outright or jointly — in the Miami and St. Louis MSAs.
  • Xfinity (Comcast’s consumer brand) operates in 13 of the top 20 MSAs. Xfinity consistently outperforms fixed wireless and non-fiber competitors in Download Speed, Consistent Quality and Video Experience. It wins Consistent Quality either outright or jointly in six markets, including Houston, Miami and Atlanta, and Download Speed outright in Seattle, Minneapolis and Denver, which are all markets where it is not competing against Verizon, AT&T or Frontier fiber.
  • Spectrum (Charter Communications’ consumer brand) operates in seven of the top 20 MSAs. It ranks first for Download Speed in three of them. Like Comcast, it consistently outperforms fixed wireless and non-fiber in Download speed, Consistent Quality and Video Experience.
  • Cox operates in three of the top markets and sweeps the awards in Phoenix, its largest market by subscribers and homes passed.
  • Frontier Fiber is first for both Consistent Quality and Video Experience, either outright or jointly, in all four of the top MSAs where it operates. 
  • The overbuilders Astound Broadband and WOW! perform well on Consistent Quality in the handful of markets where they operate, with Astound placing joint first in Boston and Chicago (out of its three markets in the top 20) and WOW! winning Consistent Quality outright in Detroit, its largest market (and one of its two markets in the top 20).
  • Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks underperform when compared to fiber and cable broadband, often taking the bottom spots in an MSA. However, the competition between FWAs is fairly even.


Broadband experience trends

Fiber internet providers do very well across all MSAs, especially when it comes to speeds. Fiber shows its strength most in Upload Speed, where it is often more than 100Mbps ahead of its cable competitors. Fiber also has strong performance for Download Speed and Video Experience, although there are a number of MSAs where cable broadband has faster download speeds.

Cable networks provide a more varied spread of results than their fiber counterparts. Average download speeds are somewhat comparable, with cable networks beating fiber in some markets, such as Spectrum in the Tampa MSA and Xfinity in the Seattle MSA. The only MSA where a cable network tops the leaderboard for all four metrics is Phoenix — Cox Internet achieves a clean sweep in the MSA. Consistent Quality is a more level playing field, with Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox Internet, Astound Broadband and WOW! all beating fiber in various MSAs.

Verizon 5G Home Internet and T-Mobile 5G Home Internet are the only two FWA networks included in this analysis. Both FWA networks score poorly compared to fiber and cable networks, often at the very bottom of the rankings for all four metrics — although both FWA networks share in the four-way tie for Consistent Quality in the St. Louis MSA. Despite this, Opensignal’s recent comprehensive FWA breakdown has shown that FWA networks are reshaping the U.S. fixed broadband market, and are viable competitors. Additionally, while neither network can often match the performance of fiber or cable, the competition for the best FWA is fierce, with T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s FWA networks trading places between each MSA.
 


Methodology and definitions:

We have included all operators in markets where a specific technology (cable, fiber, copper or fixed wireless) covers 15% or more homes passed based on our proprietary service territories. We only included offerings that consumers can buy outside of a bundle. Our geography-based approach to identifying fiber vs. non-fiber isolates fiber vs. copper quite well in most cases, but in neighborhoods that were recently 100% copper and are being rapidly upgraded to fiber, they may contain some noise from fiber customers. All of the homes passed information comes from our service territories from our USA residential broadband subscriber analytics product, with fiber availability identified at the sub-census block level.

Opensignal references consumer-facing brand names in the reports. We have included a table above that outlines the parent companies associated with the consumer-facing broadband provider names.

Plan characteristics — for example, speed tiers or data caps — vary greatly by provider and the dispersion of the plan mix will affect the average experience result. Opensignal’s measurements capture users’ experience, regardless of the plan that they have purchased from their provider. This report analyzes the real-world situation across all users’ plans. 

Broadband Download Speed    
Measured in Mbps, Broadband Download Speed represents the typical everyday speeds a user experiences across a provider’s network.

Broadband Upload Speed    
Measured in Mbps, Broadband Upload Speed measures the average upload speeds for each internet service provider observed by our users across their fixed networks. Typically, upload speeds are slower than download speeds, but this often depends on the technology used for broadband connections.

Broadband Consistent Quality    
Measures how often users’ experience on a network was sufficient to support common applications’ requirements. Broadband Consistent Quality uses six key performance indicators, including download and upload speed, latency, jitter, packet loss and time to first byte. Metrics are represented as a percentage of users’ tests that have met the minimum recommended performance thresholds to watch HD video, complete group video conference calls and play games. Consistent quality is measured across all users at all hours of the day.

Broadband Video Experience 
Opensignal’s adaptive video experience quantifies video quality streamed to mobile devices by measuring real-world video streams over an operator's network. The metric measures users’ adaptive video experience using a Mean Opinion Score (MOS) approach inspired by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) studies which have derived a relationship between technical parameters of adaptive bitrate video streaming and the perceived video experience as reported by real people.

The videos tested are streamed directly from the world’s largest video content providers and include a wide selection of resolutions that dynamically match the network conditions, available bandwidth, and device performance. Resolutions range from 144p to 2160p, which is also called 4K or UHD (Ultra High Definition). The model calculates a MOS score on a 0 to 100 scale by evaluating several parameters, including the time to start playing the video, the quality of the video, the time playing each resolution, and the time spent re-buffering.