The U.S. is at the forefront of fixed wireless access (FWA) deployments, with many major wireless carriers, including T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and UScellular targeting expansion.
T-Mobile has built up a lead in terms of 5G fixed-wireless market share, with Verizon following closely, and AT&T recently launching a new FWA service – AT&T Internet Air. We examined Ookla Speedtest data to understand how FWA performance is evolving in the U.S., and how it is impacting churn in the market.
- T-Mobile & Verizon 5G FWA performance holding up well nationally. Despite strong customer growth, both T-Mobile and Verizon have maintained performance levels over the past year according to Speedtest data. Both ISPs recorded similar median download speeds in Q3 2023, although T-Mobile maintains an edge on median upload performance. Despite this, there are significant differences in performance at a State-level, and for urban versus rural locations.
- Cable & DSL providers bear the brunt of user churn. The FWA value proposition is clearly resonating most with existing cable and DSL customers, which make up the vast bulk of churners to both T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s FWA services. It’s not one-way traffic however, with T-Mobile’s larger user base in particular showing some attrition to cable providers. In rural locations where options are more limited, FWA services are increasingly going head to head, with over 10% of users joining Verizon’s FWA service coming from T-Mobile.
- Clear signs that download performance could be a key contributor to churn in the market. Our analysis of the customers of major ISPs in the US that have churned to T-Mobile’s FWA service shows that their median download performance before churning was below the median performance of all customers of these ISPs, indicating a performance short-fall that is likely contributing towards churn.
- Further C-band spectrum will serve to strengthen FWA’s case. The release and deployment of additional C-band spectrum for all three national cellular carriers, and AT&T’s new FWA service will drive further performance gains, and further competitive pressure in 2024.
T-Mobile and Verizon FWA scaling strongly and national performance holding up well:
Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, FWA services from T-Mobile and Verizon have seen strong growth over the past three years. Aided by disruptive pricing strategies, no annual contracts, and ease of installation (self-install), net additions remain strong for both ISPs. T-Mobile’s current FWA plan retails for $50/month, but that falls to $30/month for customers subscribing to its Magenta MAX mobile plan. Verizon prices at a slight premium to T-Mobile, with its FWA service currently retailing for $60/month, but falling to $35/month with select 5G mobile plans. On the back of their success we’ve also recently seen AT&T update its FWA strategy, launching AT&T Internet Air in August 2023, with a similar pricing strategy.
Utilizing the same 5G spectrum that its mobile customer base accesses, both T-Mobile and Verizon have been at pains to point out how they manage the on-boarding of new FWA customers, in order to limit any negative impact on performance for both cellular and FWA customers. The release and rollout of additional C-band spectrum for all three operators will provide extra headroom and the potential for improved 5G FWA performance, while T-Mobile has begun testing 5G Standalone mmWave, and has indicated that this could be utilized for 5G FWA in the future.
Performance on T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s 5G FWA services has held up well to date, although it lags behind median download performance of the major cable and fiber ISPs. The median download speed across the US for all fixed providers combined in Q3 2023 was 207.42 Mbps. T-Mobile has recorded consistent median download speed over the past four quarters, reaching 122.48 Mbps in Q3 2023 based on Speedtest data, but saw its median upload performance erode slightly, down from 19.76 Mbps in Q4 2022, to 17.09 Mbps in Q3 2023. Verizon on the other hand improved its median download performance when compared to Q4 2022, reaching a similar level to T-Mobile, of 121.23 Mbps in Q3 2023. However, its upload performance remained lower than T-Mobile’s, at 11.53 Mbps.
Ookla’s Speedtest data was used to identify the number of churned users since Q2 2022, when FWA services really started to scale and impact the rest of the market. The bulk of churn for both T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s 5G FWA services are coming from cable and DSL providers, confirming what the service providers have said.
The market research firm said that performance on T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s 5G FWA services has held up well to date, although it lags behind median download performance of the major cable and fiber ISPs.
Ookla clocked the median download speed across the U.S. for all fixed providers combined in Q3 2023 at 207.42 Mbps. T-Mobile recorded consistent median download speed over the past four quarters, reaching 122.48 Mbps in Q3 2023 based on Speedtest data, but saw its median upload performance erode slightly, from 19.76 Mbps in Q4 2022 to 17.09 Mbps in Q3 2023.
Meanwhile, Verizon improved its median download performance when compared to Q4 2022, reaching a similar level to T-Mobile, of 121.23 Mbps in Q3 2023. However, its upload performance remained lower than T-Mobile’s, at 11.53 Mbps, Ookla said.
While median performance has remained fairly steady for both operators over the past year, Ookla said it’s a different story when it comes to regional performance and between urban and rural regions.
Rural locations – predictably – fared worse than urban locations for both T-Mobile and Verizon 5G FWA service, given differences in spectrum availability and distance from cell sites, although the difference was starker for Verizon’s FWA service, Ookla said. Verizon’s FWA service recorded a median of 155.77 Mbps in urban locations during Q3 2023, but only 51.41 Mbps in rural locations.
T-Mobile increased rural FWA performance, from 82.20 Mbps in Q4 of 2022 to 91.96 Mbps in Q3 2023. Verizon’s performance in urban locations improved, with the 155.77 Mbps it achieved in Q3 2023 representing a sizable increase on the 125.55 Mbps it recorded in Q4 2022.
All of the big mobile operators, including AT&T with Internet Air, will see improved 5G FWA performance with additional C-band spectrum, and T-Mobile could potentially use millimeter wave on its 5G standalone (SA) network for FWA, Ookla noted.
Ookla’s U.S. Mobile and Wireline Speed Overview:
T-Mobile was the fastest mobile operator with a median download speed of 164.76 Mbps. T-Mobile also had the fastest median 5G download speed at 220.00 Mbps, and lowest 5G multi-server latency of 51 ms.
Spectrum edged out Cox as the fastest fixed wireline broadband provider with a median download speed of 243.02 Mbps. Verizon had the lowest median multi-server latency on fixed broadband at 15 ms.
Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence® reveals T-Mobile was the fastest mobile operator in the United States during Q2 2023 with a median download speed of 164.76 Mbps on modern chipsets, a slight decline from 165.22 Mbps during Q1 2023. Verizon Wireless and AT&T were distant runners up and both saw minor declines in download speed.
T-Mobile had the fastest median upload speed among top mobile operators in the U.S. at 12.16 Mbps during Q2 2023. Verizon Wireless was second and AT&T finished third.
Calculating median multi-server latency for the three top mobile operators in the U.S. during Q2 2023, T-Mobile had the lowest multi-server latency at 54 ms. Verizon Wireless was a close second at 58 ms. AT&T was third at 63 ms. As latency becomes an increasingly important measure, we’ll be sure to watch latency metrics closely.
In measuring the Consistency of each operator’s performance, we found that T-Mobile had the highest Consistency in the U.S. during Q2 2023, with 86.1% of results showing at least 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. Verizon Wireless and AT&T followed at 81.5% and 79.2%, respectively.
In measuring the Video Score of each mobile operator’s video performance, we found that T-Mobile had the highest Video Score in the U.S. at 74.39 during Q2 2023. Verizon Wireless was a close second at 70.89 and AT&T was third at 68.16.
Looking at the 5G Video Score of each operator’s video performance over a 5G connection, T-Mobile had the highest 5G Video Score in Q2 2023 at 78.70. Verizon Wireless recorded a 5G Video Score of 77.39 and AT&T had a score of 70.40.
Looking only at tests taken on a 5G connection, T-Mobile had the fastest median 5G download speed in the U.S. at 220.00 Mbps during Q2 2023, in line with its performance during Q1 2023. Verizon Wireless remained second and saw a slight increase to 133.50 Mbps in Q2 2023. AT&T remained third at 86.01 Mbps. The bars shown in the chart below are 95% confidence intervals, which represent the range of values in which the true median is likely to be. For a complete view of commercially available 5G deployments in the U.S. to-date, visit the Ookla 5G Map™.
Our mobile 5G multi-server latency results in Q2 2023 showed that among top providers, T-Mobile registered the lowest median 5G multi-server latency in the United States. Latency was a tight race, but our testing showed that with a median value of 51 ms, T-Mobile users saw better multi-server latency values than those of their nearest competitor, Verizon Wireless (53 ms).
In measuring the Consistency of each operator’s performance over a 5G connection in the U.S. during Q2 2023, we found that there was no statistical winner for highest 5G Consistency.
Our analysis of the most popular devices in the U.S. during Q2 2023 showed no statistical winner for fastest median download speed, with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 both recording similar speeds, followed by the Google Pixel 7 Pro, the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
We examined combined performance by major cell phone manufacturers and found that Samsung devices had the fastest median download speed in the U.S. at 90.83 Mbps during Q2 2023. Apple followed at 75.65 Mbps.
Looking at popular chipsets in the U.S., Ookla found no statistical winner for median download performance between Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 at 141.58 Mbps and its previous generation Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 at 136.85 Mbps. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X65 5G registered a median download speed of 125.05 Mbps, Google’s Tensor G2 was next on the list at 124.77 Mbps, while Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 followed at 117.59 Mbps.
Kansas City, Missouri had the fastest median mobile download speed among the 100 most populous cities in the U.S. at 151.15 Mbps during Q2 2023. Scottsdale, Arizona was second; Columbus, Ohio was third; Plano, Texas fourth; and St. Paul, Minnesota was fifth.
Reno, Nevada had the slowest median mobile download speed among the U.S.’s 100 most populous cities during Q2 2023 at 51.06 Mbps. Anchorage, Alaska was second slowest; Lincoln, Nebraska third slowest; Laredo, Texas fourth slowest; and Tulsa, Oklahoma was fifth slowest.
T-Mobile was the fastest operator in 87 of the 100 most populous cities in the U.S. during Q2 2023. Verizon Wireless was the fastest provider in El Paso, Texas, and results were statistically too close to call in 12 cities.
A new report from Ookla shows that fixed broadband speeds are gaining faster than mobile speeds globally. Speedtest Global Index™, tracks countries’ internet speeds and the overall global median internet speeds which are increasing across the world as countries continue to invest in fiber and 5G. Fixed broadband download speeds increased by 28% over the past year. That’s compared to a nearly 17% increase for mobile speeds, according to Speedtest Global Index™ data from November 2021 to November 2022.
Here are selected charts from their report:
Ookla is excited to see how global speeds and rankings change over the next year as individual countries and their providers choose to invest and expand different technologies, particularly in 5G and fiber. Be sure to track your country’s and check in on our monthly updates on the Speedtest Global Index. If you want more in-depth analyses and updates, subscribe to Ookla Insights™.
In a new blog post, Ookla asseses The State of Worldwide 5G in 2022. The market research firm examined Speedtest Intelligence® data from Q3 2022 Speedtest® results to see how 5G performance has changed since last year, where download speeds are the fastest at the country level, and how satellite technologies are offering additional options to connect. Ookla also looked at countries that don’t yet have 5G to understand where consumers are seeing improvements in 4G LTE access.
Editor’s Note: for some unknown reason, China is not included in Ookla’s report
- 5G speeds were stable at the global level with:
a] Median global 5G download speed of 168.27 Mbps in Q3 2022 as compared to 166.13 Mbps in Q3 2021
b] Median upload speed over 5G slowed slightly to 18.71 Mbps (from 21.08 Mbps) during the same period
- Ookla® 5G Map™: 127,509 5G deployments in 128 countries as of November 30, 2022, compared to 85,602 in 112 countries the year prior
- South Korea and the United Arab Emirates led countries for 5G speeds
- 5G Availability points to on-going challenges
5G Availability measures the proportion of Speedtest users with 5G-capable handsets, who spend a majority of time connected to 5G networks. It’s therefore a function of 5G coverage and adoption. We see wide disparity in 5G Availability among markets worldwide, with for example the U.S. recording 54.3% in Q3 2022, well ahead of markets such as Sweden and the U.A.E., with 8.6% and 8.3% respectively.
Critical levers for mobile operators to increase 5G Availability include:
- Increasing 5G coverage by deploying additional base stations
- Obtaining access to, or refarming, sub-GHz spectrum, to help broaden 5G coverage, as sub-GHz spectrum has superior propagation properties than that of higher frequency spectrum bands.
- Encouraging 5G adoption among users with 5G-capable handsets.
Speedtest Intelligence points to 5G adoption challenges in some markets, with 5G Availability dropping in Bulgaria, South Korea, the Netherlands, and the U.A.E. As more users acquire 5G-capable devices, operators need to balance their pricing models to ensure users have sufficient incentives to purchase a 5G tariff.
Countries where 5G is not readily available:
Speedtest Intelligence showed 29 countries in the world where more than 20% of samples were from 2G and 3G connections (combined) during Q3 2022 and met our statistical threshold to be included (down from 70 in Q3 2021). These are mostly countries where 5G is still aspirational for a majority of the population, which is being left behind technologically, having to rely on decades-old technologies that are only sufficient for basic voice and texting, social media, and navigation apps. We’re glad to see so many countries fall off this list, but having so many consumers on 2G and 3G also prevents mobile operators from making 4G and 5G networks more efficient. If operators and regulators are able to work to upgrade their users to 4G and higher, everyone will benefit.
Countries That Still Rely Heavily on 2G and 3G Connections
Speedtest IntelligenceⓇ | Q3 2021
|2G & 3G Samples
|Central African Republic
|Saint Kitts and Nevis
Ookla was glad to see performance levels normalize as 5G expands to more and more countries and access improves and we are optimistic that 2023 will bring further improvements. Keep track of how well your country is performing on Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index™ or track performance in thousands of cities worldwide with the Speedtest Performance Directory™.
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.
Here’s the current status of Worldwide median 5G Speeds as of Q3-2022:
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.
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: