When it comes to LTE, how fast your smartphone can download and upload data often depends on where you are. But if your phone is tied to Verizon's LTE network, there's a pretty good chance your data speeds are going to beat everyone else's.

After testing wireless network speeds at multiple locations in eight U.S. cities, we found that Verizon consistently delivered the fastest LTE. The carrier swept all three categories we measured — average download speed, average upload speed and the time it takes to download an app from Google Play. This is the third consecutive time Verizon has topped our network speed rankings.

Which carrier is the runner-up depends on what metric you value. AT&T had the second-fastest average download speed in our testing, a little less than 4 Mbps faster than T-Mobile. But T-Mobile posted the second-fastest average upload time after Verizon, finishing ahead of AT&T. Ultimately, the runner-up nod goes to AT&T, which finished second in our app download test with an average time of 35 seconds; T-Mobile finished third with a 50-second average.

National Results

While Sprint may have placed last among the Big Four carriers, it posted the biggest improvement, doubling its average download speed from the last time we tested. It also performed dramatically better in our app download test, narrowing down the gap with T-Mobile to 7 seconds. It's clear that Sprint's efforts to improve its 4G capabilities are paying off.

 Average Download SpeedAverage Upload SpeedAverage App Download Time (Min: Sec)
Verizon53.3 Mbps17.5 Mbps0:28
AT&T37.1 Mbps12.9 Mbps0:35
T-Mobile36.3 Mbps16.4 Mbps0:50
Metro by T-Mobile32.8 Mbps13 mbps1:22
Sprint32.5 Mbps4 Mbps0:57
Straight Talk31.1 Mbps15.6 Mbps1:06
Cricket6.5 Mbps5.8 Mbps1:00
Boost29.4 Mbps3.7 Mbps1:29

Outside the Big Four, Metro by T-Mobile (formerly Metro PCS) remains the fastest discount carrier, riding the strength of T-Mobile's network to the fourth-fastest average download speed. But Straight Talk, which lagged other carriers in previous tests, turned in a stellar performance when using a SIM card tied to Verizon's leading network. (Straight Talk uses other carriers' networks, too, and when we tested with different SIMs, the speeds weren't as fast.)

How They Finished: City-By-City Results

  • New York: Verizon (Runner-up: Straight Talk)
  • Philadelphia: Sprint (Runner-up: AT&T)
  • Houston: Verizon (Runner-up: T-Mobile)
  • Dallas: T-Mobile (Runner-up: Verizon)
  • San Francisco: AT&T (Runner-up: Verizon)
  • Seattle: Verizon (Runner-up: T-Mobile)
  • Los Angeles: Verizon (Runner-up: T-Mobile)
  • Chicago: Verizon (Runner-up: AT&T/Sprint)

How We Tested

We tested eight popular carriers. In addition to the Big Four wireless providers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — we also looked at four discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Metro and Straight Talk. (In our past tests, we've included Virgin Mobile, but during our test period, Virgin was positioning itself as an iPhone-focused carrier, and we use Samsung Galaxy phones in our testing to ensure a level playing field — iPhones use different modems, depending on the carrier you select.)

We conducted our testing using the Galaxy S9. Seven of the carriers we tested supplied us with a test unit tied to their network. In the case of Boost, we bought an S9 directly from the company tied to its network.

We used the same phones to test the different networks in eight cities. Adam Ismail conducted testing in New York and Philadelphia; Jorge Jimenez ran tests in Houston and Dallas; Philip Michaels tested in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle; and Meghan McDonough conducted testing in Chicago. We conducted our testing from June to August 2018.

In each of the cities, we selected six test sites based on geographic diversity and popularity. Those test sites included an equal mix of outdoor and indoor testing. We ran Ookla's Speedtest.net app five times at each location to record an average download and upload speed for each carrier. We also downloaded Discord (a 40MB file) from Google Play and timed how long the app took to install; if the app didn't download after 5 minutes, we stopped the test and listed its download time at 5:00 for that location.

MORE: The Best and Worst Phone Carriers

After determining average download and upload speeds for each location in each city, we used those results to come up with an average performance number for all six cities. To determine our final rankings, we looked at both download and upload averages as well how close the gap was between different carriers; we also considered how carriers fared when downloading mobile apps.

Here's how the different carriers rank in our tests.

1. Verizon

Average Download: 53.3 Mbps
Average Upload: 17.5 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 28 seconds

It's no mystery why Verizon has tightened its grip on the top rank in our network testing. It had both the fastest download and upload averages across our eight test cities. It also turned in the fastest average time on our app download test, with a blazing-fast 28-second average. In fact, in only one city did it take longer than a minute to download Discord on Verizon's network.

Verizon was the top-performing network in more than half of the cities where we tested. In three of the cities where Verizon didn't take the top spot (Dallas and San Francisco), it was the runner-up. The only city where Big Red missed the mark was Philadelphia, where it had the worst download speeds of any of the Big Four carriers.

Verizon's best performances were recorded in New York and Chicago, the country's two largest cities. The carrier not only had the best download speeds in both those cities but also finished well ahead of the next-fastest carrier.

MORE: Verizon Data Plans: What's Right for You?

In New York, Verizon's 84.6-Mbps average was 54 percent faster than the 54.8-Mbps average Straight Talk recorded (using Verizon's network, too). In Chicago, Verizon's 85.8-Mbps download speed was 33 percent faster than runner-up Sprint's.

2. AT&T

Average Download: 37.1 Mbps
Average Upload: 12.9 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 35 seconds

AT&T had the second-fastest average download speed at 37.1 Mbps, just edging out T-Mobile. While AT&T's average upload speed of 12.9 Mbps was only fifth-best among the wireless services we tested, it had the second-best score on our app download test, which in our book puts it just ahead of T-Mobile.

AT&T can claim one city win in San Francisco, where it enjoyed a home-field advantage when we tested outside the San Francisco Giants' ballpark (which just happens to have AT&T's name on its sign).

But AT&T is more than a one-trick pony in the City by the Bay. It was the only carrier not to struggle when we tested in the Haight-Ashbury district, where it trounced the competition; and it also fared well at tests in Golden Gate Park and the Duboce Triangle neighborhood.

MORE: AT&T Data Plans: What's Best for You?

We also saw strong performance for AT&T in Philadelphia and Chicago, where it was the runner-up in our tests. (It split that honor with Sprint in the Windy City.) The carrier's third-place finish behind Verizon and T-Mobile in Los Angeles was also respectable.

3. T-Mobile

Average Download: 36.3 Mbps
Average Upload: 16.4 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 50 seconds

T-Mobile just missed out on finishing second in our rankings. Its average download speed of 36.3 was just behind AT&T's, though it had the second-best average upload speed at 16.4, trailing only Verizon.


In the end, it came down to our app download test: T-Mobile's average time of 50 seconds was good enough for third, but 15 seconds behind AT&T's average.

If you live in Dallas, T-Mobile has the top network with the best download speeds in that city. The Uncarrier also fared well in Seattle, Houston and Los Angeles, where it was runner-up to Verizon.

MORE: A Closer Look at T-Mobile's Unlimited Data Plan

4. Metro by T-Mobile

Average Download: 32.8 Mbps
Average Upload: 13 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 1 minute and 22 seconds

Metro by T-Mobile, known as MetroPCS when we ran our tests, benefits from the strong network of its parent company. Metro's average download speed of 32.8 Mbps was less than 4 Mbps different from T-Mobile 36.3-Mbps average, and the difference in upload speed (16.4 for T-Mobile, 13 Mbps for Metro) was similarly narrow.

If there's a gap between Metro and T-Mobile, we found it in our app download test. Metro's average time of 1 minute and 22 seconds was more than 30 seconds off T-Mobile's pace. Blame bad results in Houston and Chicago, where Metro's app download performance was significantly slower than T-Mobile's. (In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, our download times on Metro were slightly faster than they were on T-Mobile.)

One of the risks of using a wireless provider that relies on another carrier's network is that your data may get slowed down when there's a lot of traffic. That seems to have been the case in Houston when we tested and to a lesser extent to Chicago. For the most part, though, Metro's results were closely aligned with T-Mobile's upload and download speeds, with Metro actually finishing ahead of its parent company in some test locations.

5. Sprint

Average Download: 32.5 Mbps
Average Upload: 4 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 57 seconds

Sprint still lags its other Big Four rivals in our speed testing, as it has the previous two years we've tested LTE networks. Its average download speed of 32.5 Mbps fell just behind the average for Metro by T-Mobile, while its 4-Mbps average upload speed was the second-worst speed we recorded. (Only Sprint subsidiary Boost was slower.)

But Sprint was noticeably more competitive in this round of testing. The carrier turned in the top performance in Philadelphia, winning our app download tests and turning in the best average download speed. (Only Boost had a better average in Philly, and it uses Sprint's network.) Sprint was also runner-up in Chicago (where it split that honor with AT&T) and turned in decent third-place finishes in New York and Seattle.

On our app download test, Sprint finished with the fourth-best average time, taking 57 seconds to download Discord. That's 7 seconds slower than T-Mobile.

6. Straight Talk

Average Download: 31.1 Mbps
Average Upload: 15.6 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 1 minute and 6 seconds

Straight Talk has brought up the rear when we've previously tested speeds on wireless carriers. That wasn't the case this time around, however: Its download speeds were within shouting distance of Metro and Sprint, and its average upload speed of 15.8 Mbps was actually the third-best we recorded. We think Verizon's network deserves much of the credit, though.

When you sign up with Straight Talk, you get a choice of SIMs tied to each of the Big Four carriers' networks. For our testing, we used a Verizon-tied SIM card. Straight Talk's numbers never quite matched Verizon's — download averages were off anywhere from 29 percent to 386 percent, depending on the city we tested in — but rarely did Straight Talk bring up the rear in testing.

To see if our theory that the network you use with Straight Talk plays a major role in how strong your performance is, we went back to some test sites in New York, replacing our Verizon-tied SIM card in our Straight Talk-supplied Galaxy S9 with a T-Mobile one. T-Mobile had the slowest download speeds of the Big Four Carriers in New York, and sure enough, the Straight Talk numbers weren't as good using that network as they were with the Verizon SIM. If you opt for Straight Talk, pay close attention to which Big Four carrier has the best performance in your area.

7. Cricket

Average Download: 6.5 Mbps
Average Upload: 5.8 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 1 minute

Cricket uses AT&T's network, so you'd think that it would benefit from AT&T's fast speeds in the same way that Metro rides T-Mobile's LTE coattails. But that's not the case, and it's no secret why: Cricket warns you that it's going to cap your download speeds at 8 Mbps on all but one of its monthly data plans, and we can verify that the carrier isn't lying. We recorded an average download speed of 6.5 Mpbs — by far the worst of any carrier.

If there's any consolation for Cricket, it's that the speed cap didn't impact our real-world test. Cricket downloaded Discord in an average of 1 minute flat. That's nearly twice as long as AT&T took, but it beat the average results for Metro, Straight Talk and Boost.

Cricket's average upload speed of 5.8 Mbps, while not great, still beat out Boost and Sprint.

8. Boost

Average Download: 29.4 Mbps
Average Upload: 3.7 Mbps
Average App Download Time: 1 minute and 29 seconds

Boost's average download speed of 29.4 Mbps in the eight cities where we tested is much faster than Cricket's hampered-by-speed-caps average. So how come Boost finishes in last place? Because it fares worse than Cricket and other carriers in everything else we tested.

Boost, which is owned by Sprint and uses its parent company's network, had an average upload speed of 3.7 Mbps. On our app download test, Boost averaged 1 minute and 29 seconds, finishing 5 seconds behind the next-slowest carrier.

While Boost generally matched the performance of its parent carrier Sprint, in a few cities we saw noticeable differences in download speeds — and that hurt Boost's overall numbers. Boost's download speed was 30 percent slower in Seattle and 61 percent off Sprint's pace in Houston. Only in New York did Boost match Sprint's time for downloading the Discord app; everywhere else, the discount carrier was anywhere from 12 seconds to 1 minute and 59 seconds slower than Sprint in that test.

Credit: Shutterstock/Tom's Guide

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  • danbfree
    2016? Your tests are from September of 2015 and despite not being that "old", things have changed a lot since then and again, is not from 2016. Bad clickbait headline!
  • Mike_310
    i call BS. Verizon is only 5% faster than tmobile yet the same app downloads 40% faster on Verizon?
  • chrisfo1
    You should change what speeds were actually being measured. Verizon does not have 24Megabytes per second download. That is insane cellular data speeds and is very very misleading. Those numbers are most likely Megabits* speed, not Megabytes. Mbps stands for Megabits. 1 Megabyte = 6 Megabits. When you download those speed test apps or go to websites testing your internet speed, you are testing the Megabits. So you should be seeing 144Mbps when you measure your speeds on the websites and apps. I am very certain you are not seeing such speeds via cell data lol. Not even close actually.
  • veladem
    @CHRISFO1 I easily get 50-100Mbps via Ookla on Straight Talk/AT&T. If you'd like a screen cap I can easily get you a few tested over the last half year or so.
  • taylorh_9
    In San Jose, I can safely say that T-Mobile is easily 2-3x faster than Verizon in most places (we have both.) Some places Verizon is faster or as fast. However T-Mobile's coverage kind of stinks. It's either all or nothing and you get nothing far too frequently whereas Verizon can range from slow to fast, but it always works.
    So speed tests are interesting, but I'm really more interested in consistent good performance in the most places, not rockin' fast performance in spots. Based on my experience, that's how these two measure up.
    Despite that, I'm eyeing the day I can switch to T-Mobile. Sadly some places I currently need coverage (remote rural) T-Mobile simply has no signal whatsoever.
  • flameout00
    Definitely depends on which part of the Country you are in. Maybe I'm just in a really great spot, but I get around 130 Mbps download and 15 upload (Sprint, Galaxy S7 Edge, Ookla speedtest app) and these results are fairly consistent
  • PReed4962
    Cricket advertises their speed at 8Mbps - it is not meant to be as fast as AT&T - its also A LOT less expensive.
  • Zuper_
    These tests are always meaningless. Verizon spends its money in cities. Sprint is hardly a national carrier, drive through flyover country with a sprint phone and you will be roaming on the verizon network most of the time.
  • Chris_442
    I'm in North jersey and since my galaxy S8 got here last week I've been averaging download speeds on sprint btwn 35mbps to 45mbps with two tests this weekend as high as 67mbps. I drive for a living and those speeds have been pretty consistent across much of the urban/suburban NY metro area. Those speeds are twice as fast as what I was getting with my S6 five days ago. Maybe the new in phone antenna is the difference. Sprint has been trying to get manufacturers to build phones with the latest antenna for a while now and Samsung finally delivered. I'm sure Verizon had something to do with delaying advancement in technology especially by a competitor.
  • williger
    FWIW I live in Palatine and my Verizon drops constantly. Visiting friends in the area experience same problem. Switching to AT&T, as I'm lucky to get one bar on Verizon. Hopefully, AT&T is better, Sprint is even worse here.
  • jdting
    Wow! Six whole cites. That makes a HUGE judgement about all the other places in this country. Click-bait for sure.
  • dnangauta
    Test them all next time after your allotted data is consumed - that ought to be an eye opener