AT&T, Verizon still feeling the pain of unlimited, but 4G speeds have begun recovering

It’s been nearly a year since AT&T and Verizon reintroduced their unlimited plans, inviting their customers to download, stream and surf at their whim. But those unlimited plans came with a performance price. 4G speeds for both operators began dropping steadily in OpenSignal’s tests soon after the new plans debuted in February, and in our August State of Mobile Networks report we found that Verizon’s average LTE download had fallen 2 Mbps in six months, while AT&T’s average was down by a megabit.

A half year later, there’s both good news and bad news for AT&T and Verizon. The good news is Ma Bell and Big Red seem to have stanched the bleeding created by unlimited plans. After six straight months of tracking decreases in LTE speeds, in September speeds for both operators leveled out in our measurements, and in Verizon’s case, speeds started creeping back upward. The bad news is in November, both AT&T and Verizon were still well short of their 4G speed highs established in February. Meanwhile, Sprint and T-Mobile speeds have steadily increased over the same 11-month period. T-Mobile was nearly 3 Mbps ahead of Verizon in our 4G speed metric in November, locking down its lead in the LTE speed race, while Sprint had closed much of the speed gap between itself and AT&T.

In the chart above, we’ve plotted the history of all four operators’ 4G speed metrics in 11 three-month test periods in 2017. The first test period covered November 2016 to January of 2017, while the last covered September through November. As you can see, both Verizon and AT&T’s highest speed scores for the year came in the Dec-Feb test window, right before the new unlimited plans became public. Over the next six months, both operators’ average speed scores dropped considerably, and both hit lows in August: 12.1 Mbps for AT&T and 14.4 Mbps for Verizon. But starting in the July-Sept test period, those declines stopped. Our results show AT&T’s speeds remained relatively steady for the next few months, but Verizon’s speeds began to climb back up as we rolled into the third quarter. By the end of November, Verizon’s average 4G speed had increased 1.5 Mbps in just three months in our measurements.

However, Sprint and T-Mobile seem to have taken advantage of AT&T and Verizon’s period of decline. Sprint’s speeds have been both up and down in the last year, but it ended November on a new high. Its tested average 4G download of 11.8 Mbps is more than 2 Mbps faster than its February result. Meanwhile, T-Mobile really took advantage of the situation to solidify its position on the top of our 4G speed chart. T-Mobile posted steady gains in 4G speed in our measurements in nearly every month of 2017. At the beginning of last year, T-Mobile and Verizon were deadlocked for our 4G speed award. By November T-Mobile had established itself as the clear leader in our 4G speed metric.

It looks like both AT&T and Verizon have figured out how to keep the data deluge from unlimited plans in check. The question now is if they can fully recover, bringing their average speeds back to pre-unlimited plan levels. Verizon appears to be well on its way. If Big Red’s speeds continue to increase at the rate they have in the last few months, it will be back to its February high of 17.6 Mbps in no time. AT&T has a little more work to do to fully reverse its speed decline. But even if both operators fully recover, they will likely find that the unlimited crisis has cost them major stakes in the 4G race. T-Mobile has bounded ahead of all its competitors in speed, and Sprint — which is always placed dead last in our 4G speed metric — has gained considerable ground.

Stay tuned. OpenSignal will look at the 3G and 4G metrics for all four major U.S. operators in its upcoming State of Mobile Network: USA report. We’ll also delve further into the impact of unlimited plans on mobile data speeds over the last year and the reasons behind AT&T and Verizon’s recovery.

This entry was posted in Competition, LTE, Networks and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to AT&T, Verizon still feeling the pain of unlimited, but 4G speeds have begun recovering

  1. Pingback: Verizon and AT&T LTE Speeds Get started Improving After Taking Limitless Hit, T-Cellular Nonetheless the Quickest free download

  2. Pingback: AT&T and Verizon’s speeds start to recover after launch of unlimited data

  3. Pingback: Verizon and AT&T LTE Speeds Start Recovering After Taking Unlimited Hit, T-Mobile Still the Fastest - TechGreatest

  4. Pingback: Study claims AT&T and Verizon are ‘still feeling the pain of unlimited’ – BGR | GlobAllNews

  5. Pingback: Study claims AT&T and Verizon are ‘still feeling the pain of unlimited’ - TechINFUSE

  6. Pingback: AT&T, Verizon Speeds Improve After Unlimited Data Crush – Gaming

  7. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data – moddedapks2u.club

  8. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data - trickmost.ml

  9. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data – We are Infinite

  10. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data - TechBee Press

  11. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data | Friday News

  12. Pingback: US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data | Appdroid Today

  13. Pingback: 4G speeds in US recover after unlimited plans crashed them - IT AND US

  14. Pingback: 4G מהירויות לנו לשחזר לאחר ללא הגבלה תוכניות ריסק אותם. - mylab.co.il

  15. Pingback: 4G speeds in the US recover after unlimited plans crashed them - Amazingreveal

  16. Pingback: Speed Tests Show Unlimited Plan Impact on Wireless Speeds Reversing, T-Mobile Still Tops - Telecompetitor

  17. The2ndflood says:

    Speeds are not at all the most important factors with wireless service. Pretty much everyone I know that has wireless in Tennessee, has Verizon. They will have service where no other carriers have it. So I do not care if my Verizon service is slower in some areas, because I know that I’m covered by Verizon. I’m very impressed by how much TMo has grown, because when I first used them, they were horrible! But their service is still no where near as strong as Verizon. I know that your app measures data speeds, but it isn’t used by enough people to say for fact, that these issues are occurring. I’m not putting down your app or service. I have it and I paid for the Pro version. But you should list these details when you post an article. From everything that I know, Verizon is the best wireless carrier in America. Do I care if the speeds slow down at times? Yes, but am I going to leave them over this? Not A Chance! I do wish Sprint would actually grow out their network though. I understand why they haven’t, but their network is the same size as it was when I first started using them back in 2003. That is sad.

    • thefollower says:

      @The2ndflood – I’d definitely agree with you that speed isn’t everything. Your personal experience definitely is more important, and as we all know that varies where you live, drive and work (drive and work are most important for me, I’m done with phones after that!). Though this post’s primary focus sounded like it was about speed, it didn’t read to me that the author was trying to suggest that was the only important thing.

      I’m surprised you think the open signal app doesn’t have enough users to say for a fact that these ‘issues’ are occuring (I’m assuming you mean the speeds that are measured). When I installed it a few weeks back the Android play store said there were tens of millions of installs. By the way, what’s the pro version you mention? Sounds interesting to me, and I’d like to take a look at it.

      I’ve got to say that your statement “From everything that I know, Verizon is the best wireless carrier in America,” sounds bold. Where did you get the info to back that up? That’s why I look at the independent measurements from apps like these, to avoid just believing what the wireless carriers’ ads say. After eveything tho, your experience with Verizon is what matters, so nobody is expecting you to give it up. Mine with AT&T for years (then a brief stint on the Sprint network – brief for a reason, despite the price), aligns with yours. But it is sad when it takes so long to open a web page and watch a video.

    • Andrea Toth says:

      @The2ndflood Thanks for your comment!

      Although this blog post features speed as its main topic, in other blogposts and our reports (https://opensignal.com/reports/ ) we also analyse the LTE availability, 3G, 4G and overall speeds and 3G and 4G latency of mobile operators.

      We report on the real-world experience users’ receive on mobile networks based on measurements collected and analyzed from tens of millions of smartphones. While we identify measures including the fastest speeds and highest availability, we do not imply that any operator is the “best”, or that speed is the most important indicator of network performance. Only consumers can determine which is the “best” network for their needs. We provide a range of metrics to help consumers make that call for themselves.

      We understand that every user is unique, and people should choose their operator according to their needs. We aim to provide a reality check for what our users are actually experiencing on their respective networks – in this case we focused on 4G speed – and hope that this helps people across the world have a better understanding of the real experience they can expect from mobile operators.

      Just to clarify, all our apps are free to download ( from the Apple and Google app stores) and 100% advertising free. We do not have any Pro or paid versions of our apps.

  18. Pingback: 4G speeds in US recover after unlimited plans crashed them | Digitpol

  19. Pingback: 4G speeds in USA recover after unlimited plans crashed them

  20. Pingback: 4G speeds in US recover after unlimited plans crashed them – WhatSpecification

Leave a Reply