T-Mobile Beats Verizon for Fastest Carrier Crown

T-Mobile has the fastest speeds of the four major carriers, according to new numbers released by network testing firm Ookla.

But arch-rival Verizon will find plenty in this report covering the first half of 2018 to buttress its claim that it has the best performing network.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In terms of Ookla's Speed Score — a metric uses the download and upload speeds for each carrier to rank network performance — T-Mobile reigns supreme. The Uncarrier tallied a Speed Score of 27.86, ahead of Verizon's second-place score of 26.02. AT&T finished third with a score of 22.17, while Sprint's 20.30 score brought up the rear.

Credit: Ookla

(Image credit: Ookla)

But Verizon can boast the best performance in cities. Ookla says that Big Red had the fastest network in 45 of the 100 cities where testing took place, compared to T-Mobile, which was tops in 33 cities. AT&T had the best performance in 12 cities while Sprint finished first in five. (The remaining five cities featured ties between carriers for the best performance.)

Ookla's results reflect performance for the first six months of the year. The results are pulled from more than 12 million tests run by consumers on around 2.8 million mobile devices. Ookla says it analyzes test results to figure which carrier is fastest with the most consistent coverage.

MORE: The Best and Worst Phone Carriers

T-Mobile's performance in Ookla's testing benefited from the carrier's effort to build out its LTE network using the 600Mz spectrum. Ookla says that's allowed T-Mobile to more efficiently cover a wider area while using fewer cellular sites.

Verizon, meanwhile has been adding more cell sites, particularly in urban areas, according to the Ookla report. That's allowing Verizon to address demands on the capacity of its network.

As for Sprint, though it brought up the rear in Ookla's Speed Score results, the testing firm says the No. 4 carrier "has delivered the most improved download speeds over the past year." It narrowed the gap with AT&T after expanding its use of carrier aggregation —in which LTE carriers are combined to increase peak data speeds — across more of its network.

Streaming Video Speed

A particularly interesting part of Ookla's new report is its HD Speed Ratio measurement, which looks at how often the major carriers deliver speeds capable of delivering HD streaming video. That's at least 5 Mbps, Ookla says.

Credit: Ookla

(Image credit: Ookla)

T-Mobile leads this metric, with its test results topping 5 Mbps 86.6 percent of the time. Verizon was close behind at 85.8 percent, with both AT&T and Sprint finishing below 80 percent.

It's worth noting that at the time of Ookla's testing, only Sprint let customers stream HD video as part of its standard unlimited plan. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all restrict video streaming to 480p resolution unless you pay up for a higher tier of service. And as of last week, Sprint now does the same with its Unlimited Basic and Unlimited Plus offerings.

Ookla also highlighted results from two leading flagships, the Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X. The Galaxy S9 turned in faster Speed Scores than Apple's flagship phone — results consistent with what we've seen in other testing. It comes down to LTE modems: the S9 uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, while the iPhone X turns to either an older Qualcomm X16 modem or one from Intel.

Credit: Ookla

(Image credit: Ookla)

Speeds on the two devices for different carriers matched Ookla's overall Speed Scores, with one notable exception: iPhone Xs on Verizon's network were faster than the iPhones using T-Mobile's network. The iPhone X on Verizon's network recorded a Speed Score of 29.36 to 28.93 with T-Mobile, which Ookla attributes to the way Verizon deploys its network.

Today (July 18) is turning out to be a good news day for T-Mobile, as it captured five of the seven awards in Open Signal's latest report on cellular network performance, including 4G download speeds. T-Mobile and Verizon tied on 4G availability in OpenSignal's testing, while AT&T had the best 4G latency.

In Tom's Guide's last round of network testing, we found that Verizon edged T-Mobile when we tested LTE speeds in six U.S. cities. But we're in the midst of running network speed testing this year and plan to publish our results soon.

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.