Performance analysis of big 3 U.S. mobile operators; 5G is disappointing customers

Speedtest Intelligence® from Ookla reveals T-Mobile was the fastest mobile operator in the United States during Q1 2021 with a Speed Score™ of 50.21 on modern chipsets. AT&T was second and Verizon Wireless third.

Note that this is the first quarter Ookla is reporting on the country as a whole, rather than using competitive geographies. Ookla says that expanding its focus to include rural areas will show drops in performance, decreasing speed and increasing latency when compared with prior reports.

In Q1 2021, T-Mobile had the fastest median 5G network download speed in the U.S. at 82.35 Mbps. AT&T was second at 76.60 Mbps and Verizon Wireless third at 67.24 Mbps. For a complete view of commercially available 5G deployments in the U.S. to-date, visit the Ookla 5G Map™.

Ookla discovered that during Q1 2021 that T-Mobile subscribers with 5G-capable devices were connected to a 5G service 65.4% of the time. 5G “time spent” on Verizon Wireless’ network was at 36.2% and at 31% on AT&T’s network.

In measuring each operator’s ability to provide consistent speeds, Ookla found that T-Mobile had the highest Consistency Score™ in the U.S. during Q1 2021, with 84.8% of results showing at least 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. AT&T was second and Verizon Wireless third. All three U.S. mobile carriers were above 80% in terms of consistency.

Calculating median latency for top mobile providers in United States during Q1 2021, AT&T and Verizon Wireless had the lowest latency at 32 ms.

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Earlier this week a new report from becnhmarking company Rootmetrics found that T-Mobile US is leading in 5G availability across U.S. cities. Rootmetrics found that AT&T’s 5G provides the best performance, and AT&T and Verizon both won high marks for 5G reliability.

“While we’ve seen strong and improving 5G availability and speeds from the carriers in many cities, it’s important to keep in mind that with the major U.S. networks utilizing different types of spectrum for 5G, the 5G availability and speeds that consumers experience can vary a great deal for different carriers across or even within different markets,” Rootmetrics concluded.

Rootmetrics tested 5G networks in 45 cities across the U.S. between January and March of this year. It recorded at least some 5G availability from all three carriers in nearly all of them. T-Mobile US was the only carrier with a 5G network presence in all 45 of the cities, AT&T had 5G service in 44 out of the 45, and Rootmetrics saw 5G availability for Verizon in 43 out of the 45 cities.

The availability of T-Mobile’s 5G was one common theme across both testing reports. Rootmetrics’ testing, conducted in the first half of 2021, said that T-Mobile had 5G availability in all 45 of the markets it tested and showed the highest percentages of 5G availability in the most markets: More than 55% availability in 30 markets, with the lowest tested market being Sarasota, FL, where Rootmetrics’ testing showed T-Mo 5G available for a device to connect to only about 19% of the time.

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Separately, Light Reading’s Mike Dano writes that “AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offer unlimited 5G disappointment.”  In a subhead titled, “T-Muddle” Dano writes:

In 2019, T-Mobile boasted that “5G speed will be up to 10x faster, compared to LTE.” But when it first launched its 5G network on its lowband 600MHz spectrum, speeds were only 20% faster than its LTE network. Then, after T-Mobile closed its acquisition of Sprint’s 2.5GHz midband spectrum, it quickly began offering 5G speeds up to 1Gbit/s. The operator even debuted a new 5G lexicon for its offerings: “5G Ultra Capacity” refers to its speedy 2.5GHz network, while “Extended Range 5G” refers to its slower 600MHz network.

So it would stand to reason that customers might want to see which flavor of T-Mobile 5G they can access, right? A quick check of T-Mobile’s coverage map reveals none of these details. The operator only offers a generic “5G” coverage layer that does not provide details about whether it’s 600MHz or 2.5GHz. One is slightly faster than LTE while the other provides average speeds of 300Mbit/s. Prospective T-Mobile customers are left in the dark.

T-Mobile isn’t the only operator seemingly content to hide behind 5G obfuscation. AT&T has debuted no fewer than three different 5G brands – 5G+, 5Ge and 5G – yet it does not offer any details to prospective customers about how it might charge for those offerings. The operator’s pricing plans mention only “5G” and do not specify whether that means 5G+, 5Ge or 5G, or all three.

Regarding Verizon’s 5G pricing plans, Dano stated:

The operator offers a truly dizzying array of 5G plans and pricing options – one observer described Verizon’s pricing plans as “a series of nesting dolls.”

In 5G, Verizon is reserving its faster “Ultra Wideband” technology only for its expensive unlimited plans. Customers on its cheapest Start Unlimited plan can either pay $10 extra for 5G specifically, or they can spend that same $10 to upgrade to a more expensive unlimited plan that offers 5G as well as other goodies, such as more mobile hotspot data. Why the two different upgrade options? “We always like to give customers choices,” explained a Verizon spokesperson.

But what that really means is that customers are simply left to fend for themselves. They’re left to pick from among a dizzying number of pricing options, all promising “unlimited” data, but all limiting that data in various ways. Customers are left to figure out why messages from iPhones to Android phones won’t show delivery receipts. They’re left to discover why they’re still receiving robocalls, and what they might need to do to block them. They’re left to uncover what kind of 5G they can get and whether it’s any different from 4G.

In conclusion, Dano says that “AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile continue to be very interested in outdoing one another in their 5G pricing schemes and big, new network claims.” However, they’re not succeeding in pleasing their customers who remain frustrated and disappointed.

Cartoon courtesy of long time IEEE contributor Geoff Thompson:

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References:

https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/united-states#market-analysis

https://rootmetrics.com/en-US/content/5g-in-the-us-1H-2021

https://www.lightreading.com/aiautomation/atandt-verizon-and-t-mobile-offer-unlimited-5g-disappointment/a/d-id/768808?

Ookla speed tests peg T-Mo as having fastest 5G

 

25 thoughts on “Performance analysis of big 3 U.S. mobile operators; 5G is disappointing customers

  1. This article has many good revelations. For example, T Mobile having fastest 5G speeds despite Verizon’s claim for its 5G mmWave network.
    Also a plethora of facts, like T Mobile is not only the only wireless carrier hiding behind obfuscation like its U.S. telco competitors.

    You may need to read this article a few times to integrate all the knowledge it contains. Hats off to the author who did an excellent job infusing facts in correlation with the subject matter.

  2. I agree that 5G is disappointing customers with only marginally higher speeds than 4G-LTE and no additional features, such as highly touted network slicing, without 5G SA core network which few network operators have deployed. And no 5G roaming!

  3. Wonderful article! This is the kind of info on 5G disappointed customers that should be shared across the Internet. Disgrace on Google for not positioning this article as a top search result on related search terms.

  4. There’s certainly a great deal to learn about the performance of U.S. mobile operators. Not just download/upload speeds, but latency, blocking, availability/coverage, drop-outs, etc.

    I really like all the points made in your article, especially that 5G is disappointing customers which is no surprise. China and South Korea 5G customers seem to be the most disappointed and angry.

  5. I’m always able to find good info from your IEEE Techblog articles. This one on the 3 big U.S. mobile operators is no exception. Many thanks!

  6. I very much enjoyed reading this IEEE Techblog post which can make people think about the reality of 5G vs all the hype.
    Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  7. This post has really good information about the 3 big U.S. mobile network operators and the disappointing 5G experiences of customers. Brief but very accurate info… A must read article! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Remarkable post! I now have a much clearer idea about the three big US mobile operators from this article. However, it’s no surprise that 5G is disappointing customers, because there are no compelling applications/use cases/services without a 5G SA core network.

  9. Informative article on the big 3 U.S. mobile network operators. It was totally what I wanted to learn about.

  10. “5G Disappointing Customers” is very informative and an incredibly revealing article. I wonder why other 5G telecom specialists don’t understand this? You must continue your incisive writing. I am confident, the IEEE Techblog has a great reader base already!

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    If so how do you prevent it? Any plugin or anything you can recommend?

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    1. In fact, your comment was SPAM as you were attempting to advertise your website (now deleted). There are many SPAM filters available to block SPAM comments like yours!

  12. 5G seems like a real micro niche industry despite claims it will usher in Industry 4.0. 5G hype is so much greater than the reality of what it currently delivers to subscribers.

  13. Loved this comparison of the big 3 US wireless telcos. Very quickly your IEEE Techblog website will be famous among all blog visitors, due to it’s excellent content.

  14. Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your IEEE Techblog and look forward to new posts.

    1. You can follow me on Twitter to receive notifications of IEEE Techblog posts at @ajwdct

  15. Thanks for finally reporting about: “Performance analysis of
    big 3 U.S. mobile operators; 5G is disappointing customers.”
    The latter is no surprise because everyone I’ve talked to that has 5G is very disappointed. Loved your analysis!

  16. Exceptionally well written article! 5G will continue to disappoint customers until many more 5G SA Core networks are deployed and URLLC in both the RAN and core meet the ITU-R performance requirements.

  17. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout of your IEEE Techblog. Is this a paid theme or do you customize it yourself?
    It is rare to see such an exceptional telecom technology blog like this one today. Please keep up the excellent quality analysis and writing.

    1. The IEEE Techblog is NOT a “paid theme” and we don’t advertise. Hence, we can be open and honest as there are no sponsors to offend! Thanks for your kind words.

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