T-Mobile and Verizon are neck and neck when it comes to 4G speed, but Verizon still has a (slight) edge in coverage, according to a new report from a wireless testing company.
In its latest evaluation of U.S. mobile networks released today (Feb. 8), OpenSignal says that Verizon has closed the speed gap with T-Mobile, with the two carriers finishing tied for both the fastest 4G network and fastest overall network. But Verizon, which points to the reach of its network as a major advantage, now has T-Mobile nipping at its heels for 4G availability in OpenSignal's calculations.
OpenSignal's report covers the last three months of 2016. In collecting numbers on network performance, the test firm says it uses consumer smartphones gathering data under normal conditions to simulate the experience of a typical wireless customer. All told, OpenSignal says it based its latest figures on 4.6 billion measurements from 169,683 smartphone users.
In OpenSignal's last quarterly report published in August 2016, T-Mobile boasted the fastest LTE speeds. That's changed in today's report, however, with Verizon essentially pulling even with the Uncarrier. OpenSignal measured Verizon's 4G download speed at 16.89 Mbps to 16.65 Mbps for T-Mobile — close enough for a statistical tie in OpenSignal's rankings.
AT&T tallied a download speed of 13.86 Mbps in OpenSignal's testing while Sprint brought up the rear with an 8.99 Mbps average. That's actually a decline from OpenSignal's last report, when Sprint logged speeds of 9.4 Mbps.
In terms of overall speed, which measures both 3G and LTE speeds, T-Mobile edged out Verizon by 14.7 Mbps to 14.63 Mbps — again, close enough for OpenSignal to declare the results a tie.
Verizon's gains in speed over the last three months of 2016 look to be the result of the carrier's upgrade to LTE Advanced, which is now available in 450 cities and can boost peak speeds by up to 50 percent. OpenSignal says it recorded big gains for Verizon in several U.S. cities where it tests.
Still, OpenSignal also found that T-Mobile gained ground on Verizon in terms of 4G availability. While Verizon finished tops in that metric, providing an LTE signal to subscribers 88.2 percent of the time, T-Mobile was right behind with a tally of 86.6 percent. That's the smallest gap OpenSignal has recorded between the carriers.
In fact, all four major carriers improved their 4G availability performance. Even Sprint, which finished fourth with a tally of 76.8 percent, was up by nearly 7 percentage points, according to OpenSignal.
In the 36 cities that OpenSignal analyzes as part of its testing, Verizon had the highest speed rankings in 14; T-Mobile was tops in four cities while AT&T led in one. T-Mobile and Verizon tied in seven of those cities. Verizon had the best 4G availability in 20 of the 36 cities, and drew with at least one carrier in the remaining 16 markets.
When Tom's Guide measures for network performance, we focus on download speed. Our most recent round of testing found that Verizon had the fastest network with T-Mobile right behind. But we've recently completed a new round of testing in six cities and will soon publish our updated results.