Verizon and T-Mobile try to outdo one another in 4G reach

A year ago, T-Mobile US accomplished quite a coup in our metrics. It surpassed Verizon in our 4G availability measurements last August, and for the last two U.S. State of Mobile Networks reports it’s held onto to that lead. But in OpenSignal’s new U.S. report, Verizon has made up its lost ground. The two operators were numerically tied for our 4G availability award as each was able to offer a 4G signal to our testers 93.7% of the time.

To be fair, Verizon didn’t have much of a gap to close. For the last two years, both operators have been neck-and-neck in this metric even as they both expanded the reach of their LTE networks. It also shows how important boosting LTE access is to both operators. A 1 percentage point increase in an operator’s 4G availability score translates to an additional 7 hours each month the typical consumer maintains an LTE connection. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised to see that availability and reliability have become cornerstones of a new Verizon ad campaign. In one commercial, Verizon explains how it rigorously tests a new distributed antenna system in the lower deck of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, an area notorious for dropped signals. In another, a Verizon technician climbs an ice-covered cell tower in Alaska to ensure service is working properly along a frigid, rural stretch of highway. It’s likely no coincidence that Verizon’s 4G availability score is growing just as it’s touting the long arm of its network.

Verizon and T-Mobile have probably built out their national 4G footprints to the fullest extent of their current rollout plans by now. Therefore they’re likely no longer focusing on building macro-networks. Instead they are tackling the micro-network. They’re finding all of the nooks and crannies in their networks where signals are weak, for instance the Bay Bridge or the interiors of buildings, and surgically inserting infrastructure to provide coverage. It’s an admirable goal, but it will make big gains in 4G availability harder to come by. From here on out, we should expect T-Mobile and Verizon’s already high availability scores to increase incrementally. Even incremental gains, however, are still worth the effort. The closer they can get to 100% 4G availability, the better mobile broadband experience they can provide their customers — and the sooner they can consign their 2G and 3G networks to the scrap heap.

Be sure to read the full report to see how all four operators stack up in our 4G availability metric, as well as our other six metrics. We’re seeing plenty of interesting trends in 4G speed as well as reach. Also, let us know how your own 4G service in the U.S. compares in the comments section below.

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