New report names fastest 5G network in US — and it’s not Verizon

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There's a new champ when it comes to the fastest 5G network in the U.S. But who that champ is depends on which testing firm you ask.

According to Ookla, the fastest 5G speeds can be found at T-Mobile, based on testing conducted during the first three months of 2021. That's a shift from Ookla's fourth quarter results, when AT&T could boast the fastest 5G performance.

But AT&T can take comfort in the fact that it topped RootMetrics' report with the highest median 5G speeds in a sample of 45 cities. AT&T also topped RootMetrics' rankings for LTE speeds in the testing firm's latest report. Meanwhile, T-Mobile speeds improved, and it also claimed the widest 5G availability of any carrier.

Verizon lagged in both reports, as the carrier put its early focus on launching high-speed mmWave-based 5G in select cities before launching its nationwide network after T-Mobile and AT&T launched theirs. Both the Ookla and RootMetrics reports noted an uptick in Verizon 5G performance and availability.

Here's a closer look at what each testing firm had to say about the state of 5G.

Ookla: T-Mobile is the 5G leader

According to Ookla's numbers, the median download speed for T-Mobile 5G hit 82.35 Mbps in the first quarter of the year, jumping past AT&T's 76.6 Mbps result. Verizon brought up the rear at 67.2 Mbps. 

That was an improvement over the fourth quarter numbers Ookla recorded for all three carriers, but T-Mobile saw the biggest sequential jump. Credit that move to the carrier's ongoing efforts to integrate Sprint's 5G holdings into its own network, which is boosting overall speeds for T-Mobile.

ookla 5g results 2021 1q

(Image credit: Ookla)

T-Mobile also dominated in 5G time spent — basically the average time that 5G-capable devices are connected to the faster network in Ookla's testing. T-Mobile's 65.4% 5G availability ranking is nearly double the 36.2% figure recorded by second-place version.

It's no wonder then that Ookla gives T-Mobile the title of fastest mobile operator in the U.S., with a speed score of 50.21. That tops the speed scores of AT&T (48.38) and Verizon (41.25).

Interestingly, Ookla's report also contains performance figures for individual phones. The OnePlus 8, released a year ago, had the fastest median download speed over all technologies combined, edging out both iPhone 12 Pro models. OnePlus also topped the median download speeds for phone makers, finishing ahead of second-place Samsung and Apple.

RootMetrics: AT&T has the best 5G

RootMetrics didn't publish median download speeds in its new report, instead awarding its top 5G carrier based on the number of cities where 5G performance topped 50 Mbps. During the first quarter, that would be AT&T 5G, which had speeds faster than 50 Mbps in 31 cities. T-Mobile and Verizon hit that mark in 12 and 10 cities, respectively.

5g performance 1h 2021

(Image credit: RootMetrics)

"All three carriers showed progress across the first 45 cities we tested in the first half of 2021 compared to what we found in those same cities in the second half of last year," RootMetrics said in its report.

You're still more likely to get a 5G signal on T-Mobile's network, RootMetrics found. T-Mobile saw 5G availability numbers of 55% or better in 30 of the 45 cities RootMetrics tested. That topped AT&T's 20 cities and Verizon's three cities.

Philip Michaels

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.