MetroPCS Is Fastest Discount Carrier, Straight Talk Slowest

If you want to save money on your monthly cell phone bill, you may decide to turn to a prepaid carrier with an attractively priced data plan.

Should you go this route, MetroPCS provides the most performance bang for your buck, based on our nationwide tests of nine different networks. Cricket Wireless or Straight Talk brought up the rear.

Mike Mozart/Flickr

Mike Mozart/Flickr

We took to the streets of six U.S. cities to test LTE speeds for different wireless networks. In addition to measuring the download and upload speeds of the Big Four carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — we also looked at five popular prepaid providers (many of which are actually subsidiaries of the major carriers).

In our tests, MetroPCS had the best download and upload speeds among the prepaid carriers we tested, turning in national averages of 22.1 and 16.0 Mbps, respectively. Our testing also including downloading Pokémon Go from the Google Play store and timing how long it took. MetroPCS was the only prepaid carrier whose average time to complete that task broke the 2-minute mark.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Average Download Speed
Average Upload Speed
App Download Average (Mins:Secs)
22.1 Mbps
16.0 Mbps
Virgin Mobile
18.0 Mbps
7.0 Mbps
Boost Mobile
16.8 Mbps
6.7 Mbps
Cricket Wireless
6.0 Mbps
11.9 Mbps
Straight Talk
5.1 Mbps
2.2 Mpbs

More significantly, you won't be trading off performance for a lower monthly bill should you go with MetroPCS, which uses the network of its parent company T-Mobile. MetroPCS's national download and upload speeds weren't that far off the respective averages of 23.5 and 16.3 Mbps that T-Mobile recorded nationally. And at some individual test sites, MetroPCS turned in faster numbers than its parent network.

MORE: Best Prepaid Phone Plans: MetroPCS v. Boost v. Cricket

MetroPCS wasn't the only prepaid subsidiary to match the performance of its parent company. Boost Mobile and Virgin are both owned by Sprint, using that carrier's network for their wireless service. And both Boost and Virgin turned in numbers that were in line with Sprint's averages. (Virgin, in fact, had a faster download speed in our testing at 18 Mbps to Sprint's 17.7 Mbps average. Boost's numbers were a little bit slower.)

Two prepaid carriers lagged the field in our testing. Cricket Wireless turned in a national download average of 6.0 Mbps and an upload average of 11.9 Mbps. Straight Talk's numbers were even slower, with download and upload averages of 5.1 and 2.2 Mbps, respectively.

In fact, those two carriers had the worst download speeds in all six cities where we tested. In contrast, Virgin turned in the fastest download speed when we tested in Houston, just edging out parent company Sprint, while MetroPCS had the second fastest download average in our tests in Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles.

One other noteworthy thing about Cricket's download speeds: they're well off the pace set by parent company AT&T, which posted a 13.8 Mbps download speed nationally. That's not necessarily a surprise, as Cricket's wireless plans stipulate that LTE download speeds max out at 8Mbps. Only in our Houston, Chicago and San Francisco tests did our Cricket phone come close to that maximum speed.

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.

  • Dietrich_3
    Missing Fi, US Mobile, FreedomPop, etc.
  • Dan Whistleblower
    Warning: Middle Tennessee has the WORST cell coverage, service, and cost in metro PCS. So that article by the genius, opinionated writer is an ignorant act of unprofessional journalism or he's being paid by metropcs's shady associates for plugging and advertising the unproven and not so accurate statistics. It's the extreme arrogance of the middle eastern ran and controlled stores that are poison for metropcs. The misleading FALSE ADVERTISING from the recordings of stores telling customers that there's no deductable on the contract they're signing is being submitted to the attorney general in the state of Tennessee. So good luck to you Mr Michaels and you're suspicious promotion of MetroPCS.
  • Dan Whistleblower
    People are fed up in Middle Tennessee. They are constantly overlooked, disrespected and ripped off by franchise giants like McDonald's and Metropcs. They're making BILLIONS from the fastest growing population in the country since 2001. These extreme profits are only distracting them from the amount of attention, maintenance, supervision, and upgrading that they need to be doing. They're not going to spend a dime on those hillbillies in Tennessee comma but what these Big & Rich bigots don't know is 3 major interstates intersect in Nashville and bring all walks of life here who have cell phones that piss them off and they're calling their families friends and Associates in various places they're from that MetroPCS sucks here. Amen. Consumers give your opinion. Tom's ask ya to.
  • Juniortejeda
    Big liar I am customer of metro pcs for 8 years and I have had to make numerous complaints about it its speed is super slow and I have data without limits, they have never solved the problem to me. I still hope for an alleged investigation by them. That which you publish is not true.
  • Pete_31
    I have had MetroPCS now for almost a year and I cannot be happier with their service. My download speeds are crazy fast here in Pennsylvania. Using a speed test app recently I got a download speed of 57.85 Mbps and an upload speed of 27.51 Mbps. And no, I was not connected to WiFi.