As mobile operators prepare for 5G, their existing 4G networks are benefiting from the increased densification, faster speeds and the extension of LTE’s reach, according to OpenSignal’s most recent report.
Though the first true 5G mobile network — one using 5G ‘new radio’ technology — has yet to launch, we find the U.S. mobile industry in a 4G renaissance as it waits for the next generation of mobile broadband to emerge,” OpenSignal said, citing increasing download speeds on all four national operator networks. “Those increasingly powerful connections show that investment in 4G capacity and speed is continuing, and many of these upgrades are likely a prelude to the investment in 5G network we’ll see in the coming year,” the company said.
The company, which relies on crowd-sourced data for its analysis, said that its most recent assessment of U.S. mobile networks “found a country that has reached a high level of maturity in 4G — apt as operators are looking ahead this year to their first 5G networks.
“LTE access is at an all-time high and 3G connections continue to recede into the background,” OpenSignal said in a blog entry on its testing. “What’s more, the surge in 4G speeds we began tracking last summer has maintained its upward trajectory. The foundations that operators have been laying for 5G launches — such as improved backhaul or site densification — have also begun benefiting existing 4G services by reducing bottlenecks. In short, while the country is readying itself for 5G, 4G is only improving.”
OpenSignal found that in terms of LTE availability, T-Mobile US “had the upper hand throughout 2017” in its testing, while Verizon “regained lost ground in 2018,” with only a narrow margin separating the two carriers. OpenSignal pegged Verizon’s LTE availability at 94.2% and T-Mobile US’ at 94%, followed by AT&T at 88.9% and Sprint at 88.4%.
“Any 4G Availability score above 90% is exceptional, and the high marks we saw on all four operators’ networks shows us just how far LTE services have permeated the U.S.,” the company said, adding, “It’s very rare to see all of a country’s national operators score above 90% in 4G Availability. It would be an even more impressive feat for the U.S. mobile industry, considering the country’s enormous geographic size and topographic diversity.”
OpenSignal said that Verizon in particular has seen major gains in the past six months, with faster speeds, improved video quality and extended LTE reach. A “sizable increase” in Verizon’s download speed experience put the company in a draw with T-Mo in that category, where T-Mobile US had previously had a clear lead.
“T-Mobile is a very close second in our analysis, and will likely contest each of Verizon’s current wins in our future U.S. reports,” OpenSignal added.
AT&T continued to differentiate itself in the area of network latency. OpenSignal said that it was the only U.S. operator with average response times of less than 60 milliseconds across its 3G and 4G networks.
“2019 will be a year of big change in the U.S. with the arrival of 5G and a host of new network investments supporting it. In this new cycle there are no certain winners, and everyone is jostling for an advantage,” OpenSignal said.
Verizon tops Tutela’s download speed rankings; T-Mo captures fastest upload speeds
Crowd-sourced testing company Tutela, meanwhile, found that Verizon had the best LTE download speeds on a nationwide basis — but that T-Mobile US performed best in upload speeds and network latency.
Verizon’s national average download speed was 20.83 Mbps, which Tutela said was based on more than 2.5 million speed tests on Verizon’s network collected in December. However, the company noted there were some significant regional differences, particularly in Texas and California, where Verizon’s speeds were quite a bit faster than its national average: 24.07 Mbps. AT&T’s average download speed was 14.83 Mbps; T-Mobile US came in at 11.10 Mbps and Sprint averaged 9.25 Mbps.
In terms of upload speeds, T-Mobile US had a national average of 9.68 Mbps, puttingVerizon in second place with 9.30 Mbps. AT&T had average upload speeds of 7.83 Mbps and Sprint came in at 4.89 Mbps, according to Tutela’s data. Those speed tests involved the upload of a 1 MB file, the company noted.
The company also collected data on 3G network speeds, where Verizon had the lowest ranking at 1.45 Mbps. T-Mobile US had the fastest 3G download speeds (4.8 Mbps), followed by AT&T (3.64 Mbps) and Sprint (1.52 Mbps).
Tutela’s results were based on more than 40 million speed tests during December 2018, according to the company. Tutela described its testing approach as representative of “the day-to-day usage and experience of real-world mobile users,” without optimized test servers and other conditions. “Our methodology and configuration simulate typical user mobile behavior, such as accessing websites or downloading and sending images, rather than the more traditional testing of peak mobile network speeds which few users will experience when using the majority of apps,” the company said.