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5G report just revealed fastest carrier in the US

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T-Mobile ended last year with the leading 5G network, according to a new report by a third-party testing firm. But the phone carrier shouldn't get too comfortable in the top spot, given how its rivals have spent the early part of 2022.

The latest report from RootMetrics says that T-Mobile has the fastest 5G speeds of any carrier and the greatest 5G availability. Only when measuring 5G reliability did a different carrier — Verizon, in this case — come out on top.

But the timing of testing for this RootMetrics report is significant. It looks at the 5G performance of the best phone carriers during the second half of 2021. At the start of the New Year, Verizon flipped the switch on its new C-Band 5G deployments, which bring faster average speeds to a a wider number of people — currently more than 90 million, according to Verizon. AT&T has launch its C-Band 5G, too, though in only a handful of cities at this point.

Because of those faster installations, both Verizon and AT&T — though especially the former — are expected to see some gains the next time a testing firm like RootMetrics runs its report. But for now, expect T-Mobile to make a lot of hay out of the claim that its 5G coverage comes out on top in some critical categories.

T-Mobile 5G: What RootMetrics found

RootMetrics ran its tests in the largest 125 cities in the U.S., and found that T-Mobile had the fastest 5G download speeds in 48 markets, compared to three for Verizon and zero for AT&T. Median download speeds for T-Mobile, topped 100 Mbps in more than half the cities RootMetrics tested in. In 26 markets, the Uncarrier's speeds topped 200 Mbps.

T-Mobile can also boast having the best 5G availability based on RootMetrics' findings. With the highest availability in 83 tested markets, T-Mobile topped AT&T (62 markets) and Verizon (6 markets).

It wasn't a clean sweep for T-Mobile, though. Verizon had the best 5G reliability in 93 markets, topping AT&T 67 markets and trouncing T-Mobile's 19-market tally.

Rootmetrics' report 5g performance

(Image credit: RootMetrics)

The RootMetrics findings are consistent with what we've seen from other third party testers. Back in January, OpenSignal published a 5G testing report in which T-Mobile not only had the fastest 5g download speeds, but was 93.9 Mbps faster than its closest rival. T-Mobile also finished on top for availability and reach in that 5G performance report.

T-Mobile took a different approach from other carriers when building out 5G coverage, using sub-6GHz spectrum to create a far-reaching nationwide network. The carrier was the first to launch a nationwide 5G network, which now reaches more than 310 million people. It's now using mid-band spectrum — much of it obtained through the merger with Sprint — to boost speeds. Some 210 million people have access to this Ultra Capacity 5G service from T-Mobile.

How Verizon and AT&T could respond

Early efforts from Verizon and AT&T concentrated on mmWave-based 5G, which is very fast but has a limited range. Those mmWave-based towers are in select cities, with Verizon and AT&T using slower sub-6GHz 5G to build out nationwide coverage of their own.

In mid-January, though, both networks got a boost in the form of improved high-speed 5G through C-Band spectrum. The higher band spectrum has a wider reach than mmWave, enabling both carriers to reach more people with faster 5G service. (We saw this first-hand during a C-Band 5G preview hosted by Verizon.) In Verizon's case, that means more than 90 million people are now getting the carrier's fastest Ultra Wideband 5G. AT&T is rolling out its C-Band-based 5G on a more limited basis at this time.

C-Band already seems to be improving performance for Verizon. Right after C-Band 5G went live, testing firm Ookla published a report claiming that Verizon's average 5G download speed jumped to 116.3 Mbps from 76.5 Mbps within the course of a week. (T-Mobile speeds increased from 182 Mbps to 187.1 Mbps in that same time period.)

The implication is that future 5G reports will take Verizon's improved network into account and that the final results could be very different from the one RootMetrics is publishing today — something the testing firm itself acknowledged.

"The 5G race is highly dynamic and prone to rapid change, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the leaderboard shift as we move further into 2022 and beyond," RootMetrics says in its report.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.