Look Out, Verizon: AT&T's Network Is Gaining

Verizon's network is still tops by network testing firm RootMetrics's measure. But if Big Red looks over its shoulder, it might see AT&T inching closer.

Credit: Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.com

(Image credit: Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.com)

In its semiannual report on the state of U.S. wireless networks, Root Metrics once again gave top honors to Verizon, time time for the wireless provider's performance during the first half of 2017. That's not a surprise — Verizon's now been named the overall winner in eight consecutive reports from RootMetrics.

But AT&T, which placed second to Verizon nationally, got special mention from RootMetrics for putting up a strong challenge against its rival carrier. AT&T finished second in five of the six performance categories RootMetrics tests, and even grabbed a share of a first place award for the way it handles texting. It's AT&T's first category win since the second half of 2015, according to RootMetrics.

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In other good news for AT&T, the carrier improved its national performance in call testing, jumping to second place after a third-place ranking in the second half of 2016. At the state level, AT&T won or shared 140 of the possible 300 awards from RootMetrics; that's up from 92 awards in RootMetrics's previous report. In contrast, Verizon's state award tally fell by 10 to a still pace-setting 268.

"Considering AT&T’s ascent to a shared victory in text performance, as well as the carrier’s expansive LTE footprint, AT&T could soon challenge Verizon in other categories moving forward," RootMetrics says in its report.

Credit: RootMetrics

(Image credit: RootMetrics)

Don't shed too many tears for Verizon, which won five of the categories RootMetrics measures outright and shared the texting award with AT&T and Sprint. (That was Sprint's first-ever award at the national level, RootMetrics said.)

Overall, Verizon led the way with a RootScore of 94.5, followed by AT&T (92.9) and Sprint (87.9). T-Mobile brought up the rear with a RootScore of 86.5.

T-Mobile traditionally finishes at the back of the pack in RootMetrics's reports, which usually prompts some sniping from the Uncarrier about the testing firm's methodology. Earlier this year, T-Mobile blasted RootMetrics's use of drive tests, citing crowd-sourced data as a more accurate reflection of performance.

Despite T-Mobile's fourth-place finish, RootMetrics did have some praise for T-Mobile, noting it ranks much better at the metro area level, where it made considerable gains in RootScore awards.

For its part, Sprint put out a statement after the RootMetrics report came out, noting its shared win in texting nationally as well as its year-over-year gains in RootMetrics's state and metro rankings.

In addition to overall performance, RootMetrics also rates carriers on how they handle network reliability, speed, data, calls and texting. RootMetrics based the rankings in its first half of 2017 report on 4.7 million test samples collected during 275,000 miles of drive tests and at 8,000 indoor test sites.

In LTE speed testing conducted by Tom's Guide earlier this year, Verizon took top honors with the fastest average download speeds. AT&T had the second fastest download speed, though T-Mobile turned in the best average upload speed among the carriers we tested.

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.