State of Mobile Networks: USA (July 2018)

4G speeds are on the rise once again in the U.S. Operators are beginning to cross the 20 Mbps barrier for 4G download speeds, but perhaps more telling are the results we're seeing on the regional level. In big cities like New York and Detroit we're measuring 4G connections in excess of 30 Mbps, an indication of network capabilities to come. Analyzing more than 8 billion measurements, OpenSignal once again revisits the U.S., comparing the 3G and 4G metrics of the country's big four service providers.

Report Facts

8,127,424,784
Measurements
385,679
Test Devices
2018-03-16 - 2018-06-13
Sample Period
USA
Report Location

Highlights

T-Mobile and Verizon pass the 20 Mbps mark in 4G download speed

T-Mobile once again grabbed our 4G download speed award, but we recorded significant speed gains for both Verizon and T-Mobile since our last U.S. report. Both operators surpassed 20 Mbps in our 4G download metric, marking a notable milestone.

Verizon and T-Mobile deadlock in 4G availability

Verizon has caught up to T-Mobile in our 4G availability metrics. The two weren't just statistically tied, their scores were numerically tied. Our T-Mobile and Verizon users on average were able to find an LTE signal 93.7% of the time.

Sprint's 4G gains continue

Sprint has been making plenty of progress in our 4G metrics over the last year, and in this test period it managed to pull nearly even with AT&T in our 4G availability category. Sprint also came within 600 kbps of matching AT&T's 4G download speed of 15.1 Mbps in our measurements.

AT&T expands its lead in LTE response time

For the second report in a row, AT&T won our 4G latency award as its results continue to improve. We measured an average response time of 54.1 milliseconds on its LTE networks, an improvement of more than 4ms over six months.

Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Download Speed: Overall Upload Speed: 4G Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G

AT&T

medal

Sprint

T-Mobile

medal medal medal medal medal medal

Verizon

medal

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Performance by Metric

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: Overall

This metric shows the average download speed experienced by OpenSignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.

Upload Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average upload speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

Regional Performance

This chart shows the regional winners in each category OpenSignal measures. Click on the icons to see a more detailed graph showing each operator’s metrics in a particular region.

Legend: Verizon T-Mobile AT&T Sprint
Region Download Speed: 4G Upload Speed: 4G Latency: 4G Availability: 4G
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell GA
Austin-Round Rock TX
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson MD
Boston-Cambridge-Newton MA-NH
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls NY
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia NC-SC
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin IL-IN-WI
Cincinnati OH-KY-IN
Cleveland-Elyria OH
Columbus OH
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington TX
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood CO
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn MI
Grand Rapids-Wyoming MI
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land TX
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson IN
Jacksonville FL
Kansas City MO-KS
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise NV
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim CA
Louisville/Jefferson County KY-IN
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach FL
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin TN
New York-Newark-Jersey City NY-NJ-PA
Oklahoma City OK
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford FL
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale AZ
Pittsburgh PA
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro OR-WA
Providence-Warwick RI-MA
Richmond VA
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade CA
Salt Lake City UT
San Antonio-New Braunfels TX
San Diego-Carlsbad CA
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward CA
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue WA
St. Louis MO-IL
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater FL
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News VA-NC
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria DC-VA-MD-WV
Worcester MA-CT

Some graph here

graph here

legend goes here

Analysis

If there is one overarching theme to this report, that theme is speed. The U.S. mobile industry has gotten a jolt of bandwidth in the past year, causing average 4G download speeds among all four operators to climb. T-Mobile and Verizon have now crossed the 20 Mbps threshold for average 4G download speeds in our measurements — a milestone that seemed quite distant a year ago. Meanwhile we see even more powerful networks incubating in major U.S. cities, LTE reach continuing to expand and the reinvigoration of the country's smallest national operator Sprint.

In the latest State of Mobile Networks report for the U.S., OpenSignal parsed 8.1 billion data points collected from 385,679 devices in a 90-day test period between March and June to compare the 3G and 4G experience offered by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. In addition to our national results, we've also taken a detailed look at the major cities of the U.S., expanding our regional coverage to include 47 cities and four metrics. Let's start first with the impressive growth trends we're seeing in 4G speed.

A growth spurt in LTE speeds

The U.S. mobile industry has hit an important milestone since OpenSignal published its January State of Mobile Networks report for the U.S.: Two operators have crossed the 20 Mbps threshold in our 4G download measurements. This wasn't merely a case of T-Mobile and Verizon inching their speeds upwards in our results. Rather both operators saw significant jumps in their LTE speed scores in the last six months. T-Mobile users saw their average 4G download connection increase more than 2 Mbps to 21.6 Mbps since our last report, while Verizon users experienced a nearly 3 Mbps boost to bring their average LTE download speed to 20.6 Mbps. Seen in the context of a full year, their speed gains are even more telling. T-Mobile's measured LTE download speeds have increased 24% in just 12 months, while Verizon's have jumped a whopping 38%.

Verizon's improvement is particularly impressive given the trend we observed after it reintroduced unlimited plans last year. The launch of these plans coincided with a drop in its average speed measurements, most likely driven by users consuming more data on Verizon's networks. Our current data shows that Verizon has not only overcome those challenges, but it has left them far behind. If there is one hangover effect from the unlimited launch, it's that while Verizon's speeds suffered last year, T-Mobile established a big lead in our 4G download speed metric. It maintains that lead today, though the gap between T-Mobile and Verizon has certainly shrunk in our measurements.

Gains in 4G speed weren't confined to T-Mobile and Verizon. Despite its own battle with falling 4G speeds after it reintroduced unlimited plans, AT&T reversed that trend early this year and emerged the better in our 4G download metric. Its average LTE download speed grew 17% over 12 months to 15.1 Mbps in our measurements. Sprint actually saw the biggest year-over-year increase in 4G download speed of any of the four operators in our results. Its average LTE download connection jumped 48% to 14.5 Mbps and brought it within a megabit of catching up to AT&T in our rankings. If Sprint's speeds continue to improve at the present rate, it could easily become the third-ranked operator in 4G download speed by our next report.

What we're seeing in these trends is definitive evidence of increased 4G capacity and LTE-Advanced upgrades across all four operators' networks. Data consumption certainly isn't going down, nor is the number of 4G users dropping, so this can only mean network improvements. What's more, our regional results suggest this may only be the beginning of a larger growth spurt in speed. Operators typically focus their network upgrades in urban areas before expanding them across their national footprints, so larger cities serve as bellwethers of what's to come. In 10 of the cities we examined, either Verizon or T-Mobile (or both) averaged 4G download speeds of 30 Mbps or greater in our measurements. In the largest city in the U.S., New York, we clocked Verizon's average 4G downstream connection at 33.9 Mbps.

In our other speed metrics, T-Mobile once again emerged as the dominant operator. Its HSPA+ service ran away with our 3G download award, averaging speeds of 3.6 Mbps. Given its high ranks in 3G speed, 4G download and 4G availability, it was no surprise to see T-Mobile also win the overall download speed category, and it was the only operator in our results to average more than 20 Mbps across its networks.

Our final speed category, 4G upload speed, was also a lock for T-Mobile, but here we saw a surprising gap between the fastest and slowest averages. T-Mobile's winning 4G upload result of 7.5 Mbps was three times faster than Sprint's last-place result of 2.5 Mbps. This is likely explained by the unique nature of Sprint's primary LTE technology. As detailed in our recent blog analysis of U.S. upload speeds, Sprint is able to tweak its networks to prioritize download speed over upload speed. This is most likely the reason for its low score in our upload metric, and would also explain the big improvements in 4G download speed we've seen from Sprint lately.

T-Mobile, Verizon duel over 4G reach

T-Mobile and Verizon have long battled over our 4G availability award, but in our last report we saw T-Mobile gain the upper hand, beating Verizon by a fraction of a percentage point in our measurements. Verizon, however, has closed that narrow margin in the last six months. The two operators weren't just statistically tied, they were numerically tied. Overall our users on both T-Mobile and Verizon were able to latch on to their respective LTE connections 93.7% of the time. It doesn't get closer than that.

What's fascinating about this rivalry over 4G availability is that the two opponents have already achieved such a high level of LTE access, that any gains they make are often small. T-Mobile's 4G availability score increased by half a percentage point, while Verizon's score grew by barely a percentage point. At this level, LTE reach can only grow incrementally as operators optimize their networks to maximize access. But it seems to be a fight Verizon and T-Mobile feel is worth taking. T-Mobile has been using low-frequency airwaves to expand its LTE reach, and Verizon is making availability gains in this report right as it is emphasizing improvements in network reliability in a new TV ad campaign. For every percentage point of 4G availability they gain, their consumers spend on average 7 more hours each month connected to an LTE signal. By chasing higher levels of 4G reach, Verizon and T-Mobile will not only be able to provide a better mobile broadband experience to their customers but also hasten the shutdown of their legacy 2G and 3G networks.

AT&T and Sprint also saw availability gains in our results. AT&T's 4G availability score grew from 87% to 88.4% in six months. But it was Sprint's availability results that increased the most, rising 2 full percentage points to 87.7%. Sprint's progress in this metric has been one of the big storylines of the U.S. mobile industry, especially in light of T-Mobile and Sprint's merger plans. Two years ago, Sprint's 4G availability languished below 70% in our measurements and it seemed unlikely that it could bridge the chasm between it and its competitors in LTE reach. In our most current data, Sprint is within a hair's breadth of being statistically tied with AT&T. What's more, if Sprint and AT&T keep up their current rate of 4G availability expansion, the U.S. could soon face the situation of having all four of its major operators cross the 90% threshold.

That brings us to latency, which measures a network's response time. The faster packets traverse the network, the less lag time consumers experience on real-time communications apps and the more quickly web pages and videos begin loading on the mobile internet. Last year, AT&T appears to have made major improvements to its network architecture that caused it to jump from last to first place in our 4G latency rankings. Our latest results show AT&T is solidifying this lead. Its 4G latency dropped 4 milliseconds to improve its score to 54.1ms. T-Mobile, however, continued its long series of wins in 3G latency, with a measured HSPA+ response time of 85.1ms.

Looking locally and abroad

In our regional examination of 47 major cities, we found the same battles between operators we saw in our national metrics playing out on the metro level. But in many cases the results themselves were amplified, reflecting the upgrades that operators have made to their urban networks.

In our 4G availability metric, the contest for the top spot was fought solely between Verizon and T-Mobile in 46 of the 47 cities we analyzed. Only in St. Louis did another operator take a share of the 4G availability prize as Sprint drew with Verizon. In the remaining markets, Verizon had the upper hand. It won our 4G award outright in 20 markets compared to the one market (Las Vegas) T-Mobile won outright. In the remaining 25 cities, Verizon and T-Mobile were tied statistically for the lead in our results. The level of 4G access in several of these markets was quite extraordinary. In many major cities, all four operators racked up 4G availability scores greater than 90%, and in 58 instances Verizon or T-Mobile were able to deliver a 4G signal to our users more than 95% of the time.

In 4G latency, AT&T's national dominance extended to the major cities. Ma Bell either won or shared our 4G latency award in 42 of the 47 metros. In two cities, Chicago and Milwaukee, our results show AT&T was able to provide sub-40ms connections, making it the only operator in the U.S. to hit that milestone.

Our regional 4G speed awards were more mixed than our other results, as every operator in the U.S. was able to flex its LTE muscles in at least a few markets. But T-Mobile and Verizon remained the predominant operators in our 4G upload and download speed columns. T-Mobile ranked highest in 4G download speed results in nine markets and highest in our 4G upload speed results in 10 markets. Meanwhile Verizon took the download prize in 13 cities and the upload award in 15 cities. In all of the remaining cities, either T-Mobile or Verizon — or as often was the case, both — were statistically tied in our upload and download measurements with another operator for the lead.

T-Mobile and Verizon also produced the fastest individual 4G speed scores across our 47 cities. Both operators provided our users with average LTE download speeds faster than 30 Mbps in Detroit and Minneapolis. Our results show Verizon also met that 30-Mbps benchmark in Baltimore, Chicago and New York City, while T-Mobile's list of 30 Mbps-plus cities included Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville and Kansas City. We recorded AT&T's fastest 4G download score of 23.5 Mbps in San Diego and Sprint's fastest 4G score of 23.3 Mbps in Seattle. The location of the fastest network of all in our results was a surprise. T-Mobile's LTE service in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had the highest 4G download average in our results: 45.7 Mbps.

These faster 4G speeds we see emerging in U.S. cities are encouraging signs. They're evidence that national operators are moving further down LTE's evolutionary path, though the improvements we see in different cities could all be the result of different factors. In the last year, operators have plowed more bandwidth into their LTE networks, either from new spectrum or old 2G and 3G spectrum repurposed for 4G use. They've tweaked the technical capabilities of their networks with more sophisticated antenna technologies and more advanced modulation techniques. And they have used carrier aggregation technologies to lash together multiple frequencies at far-flung ends of the mobile spectrum band to create much more powerful LTE connections. Our measurements show those efforts are paying dividends.

In our next few U.S. reports, OpenSignal will be watching for further increases in 4G speed — to see whether we're tracking a continuing trend or just a one-off boost in LTE capacity. If the trend continues, the U.S. could reclaim some of its lost glory as a 4G innovator among the global wireless community. There is no question that the U.S. is a global leader in 4G availability. It's one of only five countries to maintain a national 4G availability greater than 90% in our most recent State of LTE report. But the U.S. has fallen far behind its fellow LTE early adopters in Europe and East Asia when it comes to technological capabilities such as speed and latency. Pushing past 20 Mbps is an early sign of progress, but if U.S. operators can expand the 30 Mbps-plus experience we're seeing in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis across the country, then the U.S. could propel itself back into the 4G speed elite.

Our Methodology

OpenSignal measures the real-world experience of consumers on mobile networks as they go about their daily lives. We collect 3 billion individual measurements every day from tens of millions of smartphones worldwide.

Our measurements are collected at all hours of the day, every day of the year, under conditions of normal usage, including inside buildings and outdoors, in cities and the countryside, and everywhere in between. By analyzing on-device measurements recorded in the places where subscribers actually live, work and travel, we report on mobile network service the way users truly experience it.

We continually adapt our methodology to best represent the changing experience of consumers on mobile networks and, therefore, comparisons of the results to past reports should be considered indicative only. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data, see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 8,127,424,784 datapoints were collected from 385,679 users during the period: 2018-03-16 - 2018-06-13.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

©2018 OpenSignal, Inc. All rights reserved.

OpenSignal, Inc retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by OpenSignal, Inc may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.

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