How do the ‘Big 4’ compare for LTE in the biggest US cities?

T-Mobile CEO John Legere unveiled plans yesterday to abolish roaming charges for US users. This is fantastic news for consumers (and something that has needed to come for a while) and shows that Legere isn’t running out of exciting ideas as he enters the second year of his tenure as T-Mobile CEO. While that announcement will naturally grab the headlines but it is also worth noting that Legere heavily emphasised the growth of T-Mobile’s LTE network in his speech. His main point of emphasis was that T-Mobile’s LTE network can now be considered truly nation-wide in the US, with a reach of over 200 million consumers.

Considering that the T-Mobile LTE network was only rolled out this year, that kind of reach is an impressive achievement – but doesn’t actually tell us anything about how the network performs in comparison with the competition.  For this reason we decided to run an analysis on our data to see how AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon performed in the 10 biggest US cities by population. The results were interesting, and showed that T-Mobile is already performing excellently in the big urban centres. Sprint, who have the least well developed LTE network of the ‘big 4’ national networks, do comparatively poorly. In the Table below we show the average LTE download speeds for the 10 cities we investigated, and then declared one network to be the best performing – based on a combination of overall coverage, download speed, upload speed and latency.

How the LTE Networks Perform

City Avg. Download Speed Best Network
New York 6.7 Mbps T-Mobile
Los Angeles 7.5 Mbps AT&T
Chicago 6.6 Mbps AT&T
Houston 7.3 Mbps T-Mobile
Philadelphia 5.5 Mbps Verizon
Phoenix 9.7 Mbps T-Mobile
Dallas 8.6 Mbps T-Mobile
San Diego 9.6 Mbps T-Mobile
San Jose 10.8 Mbps T-Mobile
San Antonio 6.6 Mbps Verizon

As can be seen, T-Mobile perform extremely well, ranked as the top network ins 6 of the 10 biggest US cities.  However much John Legere implements innovative strategies to attract users to T-Mobile, the most important thing remains actual network performance and it is clear that T-Mobile are doing very well in this regard. While these average speeds may seem on the low side, especially for a technology capable of delivering much faster speeds than 3G, they are generally in line with our US-wide 4G average LTE speed of 9.6 Mbps, which we recorded in February this year. In many of these cities, one network’s poor performance lowers the overall average considerably, with Sprint the worst performing LTE network in 9 of the 10 markets we tested. The fastest average LTE network speed we recorded in this test was T-Mobile in San Jose, with an impressive 21.23 Mbps average speed. So far, so good for John Legere’s ‘uncarrier’.

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