If everything's bigger in Texas, then T-Mobile's winning performance in our wireless network tests around Houston is all the more resounding. The Uncarrier had the top performance in three of the six locations we tested and turned in strong showings in the rest of our test spots, allowing it to easily outpace Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.
It wasn't all glum news for the other major carriers, though. Verizon fared well in our app download test, while Sprint turned in its best results among the six U.S. cities we tested. Virgin and Boost, two Sprint subsidiaries that rely on Sprint's network, also performed well in Space City, making them appealing alternatives for Texans in the market for a discount carrier. —Moises Chiullan and Philip Michaels
The visitor center for the Space Center Houston saw AT&T blast off past its competition with a 55.9 Mbps download speed. That was well ahead of T-Mobile, Virgin, Sprint and Boost, which were all bunched up around 30 Mbps. AT&T's average upload speed of 18.9 Mbps was more down to earth, but still ahead of Virgin, T-Mobile and Boost, grouped together in the 13 Mbps range.
Verizon had the fastest app download speed at 16 seconds, besting AT&T by a second and T-Mobile by 3 seconds.
Minute Maid Park
Credit: Lawrence Beck/ShutterstockT-Mobile made itself right at home outside the Houston Astros' ballpark, part of the city's Convention Center District. The carrier's average download speed of 32.4 Mbps was well ahead of second-place Sprint's 18.3 Mbps average (not to mention the 17.9 Mbps and 16.6 Mbps speeds turned in by Sprint-affiliated Virgin and Boost, respectively). T-Mobile also topped upload speeds with a 22.8 Mbps average that nearly doubled Sprint's result.
For a clean sweep, T-Mobile downloaded Candy Crush Saga in 16 seconds to win that category, too. The next closest finisher, MetroPCS with a 32-second download, uses T-Mobile's network.
JPMorgan Chase Tower
Credit: Jorg Hackemann/ShutterstockFrom the observation deck of the tallest building in Texas, we had a clear view of T-Mobile's winning ways, as it once again swept all three categories. The competition got a little bit closer this time, though, with T-Mobile's average download speed of 33 Mbps finishing only slightly ahead of AT&T's 27.8 Mbps result. Likewise, Verizon (17.2 Mbps) and AT&T (16.9 Mbps) came close to T-Mobile's leading upload average of 22.8 Mbps.
The competition was not as close in app downloads, where T-Mobile's 12-second time bested AT&T by 9 seconds. That said, every carrier completed the Candy Crush Saga download in less than a minute, save for Cricket, which puttered to a 2 minute, 42 second finish.
You can ride a train past a shark tank at this downtown attraction that's located in the heart of a thriving nightlife scene, but we were more interested in watching AT&T and T-Mobile slug it out in a wireless survival of the fittest. AT&T's average download speed of 29.1 Mbps topped T-Mobile's 21.8 Mbps result, while T-Mobile took the title of fastest-average upload speed with a 21.3 Mbps tally that bested both Verizon (17.6 Mbps) and AT&T (14.5 Mbps).
AT&T captured the app download test with a time of 15 seconds, while T-Mobile (22 seconds) and Verizon (24 seconds) battled it out for the runner-up slot. Once again, every carrier downloaded Candy Crush Saga in less than 1 minute, except for Cricketer, which needed 1:38 to finish the job.
Look, testing carrier performance is thirsty work, so if we stopped by the oldest craft brewery in Texas, what's the harm? The stop gave us more insight into T-Mobile's strong performance, as the Uncarrier turned in the top download (35.2 Mbps) and upload speeds (24.1 Mbps) for this location. (Curiously, T-Mobile-owned MetroPCS brought up the rear for download and upload speeds in the very same spot.)
T-Mobile also dominated the app download test, grabbing Candy Crush Saga in half the time it took Verizon and more than half-a-minute faster than the 44 seconds Straight Talk needed to complete the task.
Credit: Cheng/ShutterstockOur final stop of the day was at this highly rated private university in the heart of downtown Houston, where Verizon upset T-Mobile's position at the head of the class. Verizon's average download speed of 34.8 Mbps topped T-Mobile's 26.0 Mbps average, with a pair of discount carriers -- Boost (18.4 Mbps) and MetroPCS (12.6 Mbps) -- rounding out the top four. For upload speeds, T-Mobile went back on top with a 24.3 Mbps average, well ahead of the times turned in by Virgin (11.8 Mbps) and Verizon (11.6 Mbps)
Verizon downloaded Candy Crush Saga in 13 seconds, allowing it to finish ahead of Boost (15 seconds) and T-Mobile in our app download test.
Even when it wasn't turning in the best times at our test locations, T-Mobile was usually among the top finishers. That helped it score the best averages across Houston, with a 29.9 Mbps average download speed and 21.5 Mbps average for uploads. AT&T finished second in average download speeds with a 23.4 Mbps but fourth in average upload with speeds of 11.1 Mbps, behind Verizon (13.3 Mbps) and Sprint (11.5 Mbps). T-Mobile also had the best average download time for Candy Crush Saga at 16 seconds. Verizon was next fastest at 25 seconds, with AT&T joining Sprint, Boost and Virgin at around 50 seconds.
Speaking of Boost and Virgin, they turned in download and upload times that consistently matched their parent company, Sprint. MetroPCS was successful at riding T-Mobile's network to a high ranking, finishing second to last for both average download and upload speeds. Cricket also fared poorly in our tests, scoring the worst average download speed and consistently finishing at the back of the pack when trying to download Candy Crush Saga.
How Others See It
Houston is the only city where our results differed greatly from the network testing performed by RootMetrics and Ookla. RootMetrics ranked Verizon as the top data performer in its most recent survey, awarding Big Red a score of 97.8 on its 100-point index. AT&T scored a 97.1, while T-Mobile finished third with 95.9. According to RootMetrics' testing, Verizon had the fastest median download speed in Houston at 16.6 Mbps, though T-Mobile did top upload speeds with a median of 17.5. Factoring in other categories like talk, text, speed and reliability, Verizon came out on top in RootMetrics' overall rankings with a score of 98.6; T-Mobile was the fourth-ranked carrier with a 96.1 score.
Likewise, Ookla's test results as of the end of August 2015 have Verizon with the fastest download speed in Houston. Its 16.7 Mbps average put it ahead of both AT&T (15.8 Mbps) and T-Mobile (15.3 Mbps). Sprint was a distant fourth with an 8.5 Mbps download speed.