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Fastest 5G network just revealed — and it’s a big surprise

(Image credit: Future)

Up until now, Verizon has ridden its millimeter wave-based 5G coverage to the top of the list for 5G network performance. But as networks continue to evolve, we’re starting to see some changes, highlighted by the latest performance report from network tester Ookla which covers the last three months of 2020.. 

AT&T 5G is the reigning champion during the fourth quarter of last year, according to Ookla, which shocked us almost as much as it’s probably shocked you. That’s a pretty sizable shift, especially since Ookla rated Verizon as the best-performing 5G network as recently as the third quarter of 2020, when the carrier’s speed score was a lofty 792.5. That dwarfed AT&T’s next best score of 65.22.

For the fourth quarter, though, AT&T’s 5G speed score rose to 75.59, while Verizon plummeted to 67.07.

The big drop in Verizon’s score can be attributed to Verizon’s wider rollout of its 5G network to more markets. In October, with the launch of the iPhone 12, Big Red moved beyond mmWave 5G to include sub 6Hz spectrum in its network. That kind of 5G covers more people — Verizon now says its 5G network reaches 230 million people — but it’s also much slower than mmWave. And more people getting slower speed on a network will drive down the speed score, according to Ookla.

Ookla Q4 5G results

(Image credit: Ookla)

With this overall drop in speed, Verizon now sits at the bottom of the 5G pile behind T-Mobile and Sprint (both of which were measured separately despite their 2020 merger).  In terms of overall performance — LTE and 5G — Ookla ranks AT&T No. 1 for the eighth consecutive quarter. T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon round out the latest rankings.

It remains to be seen if AT&T and T-Mobile will experience similar decreases in their scores as more and more people join the 5G revolution. 2021 is looking to be an interesting year when it comes to carrier 5G performance.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter: @jccpalmer — his Instagram feed is mostly photos of his cat.