Why not just publish a map in all magenta? T-Mobile did pretty much that, reporting that it was deemed by Ookla as the fastest mobile network provider in 45 states and the District of Columbia in Q4 2022, as well as in 86 of the 100 most populous U.S. cities.
T-Mobile’s median download speed was 151.37 Mbps during Q4 2022, racing past Verizon’s score of 69.01 Mbps and AT&T’s 65.57 Mbps, according to Ookla Speedtest ratings.
For 5G specifically, T-Mobile had the fastest U.S. median 5G download speed at 216.56 Mbps in Q4, which was a moderate increase over the 193.06 Mbps it recorded in the third quarter of 2022. Verizon remained in second place, with 127.95 Mbps. AT&T came in third at 85.39 Mbps.
None of this is the least bit surprising given the head start T-Mobile has been enjoying in the race to 5G, leveraging the bevy of 2.5 GHz spectrum acquired through its combination with Sprint. T-Mobile set the stage with its nationwide 600 MHz 5G deployment, but its aggressive moves with mid-band spectrum for 5G sealed the deal.
Granted, T-Mobile still has a perception challenge in getting consumers to recognize its 5G dominance. But many analysts figure it’s got about a one-year head start over its rivals on the network side of the house. Marketing-wise, company executives like to point out that T-Mobile also offers the “best value,” i.e., lower prices compared to Verizon and AT&T.
In the area of 5G multi-server latency, Verizon scored a slight Q4 win – by a hair – in registering the lowest median 5G multi-server latency in the U.S. at 53 milliseconds. T-Mobile was close behind at 54 ms and AT&T was 59 ms.
But all in all, T-Mobile is taking the 5G network crown and running with it. “We’ve long led the industry in 5G, but we’ve had our sights on more than 5G leadership,” said T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray in a statement. “We’re taking the crown as the overall network leader in America by expanding our coverage and game-changing speeds to deliver the best experience and value to customers across the nation, and we’ve only just begun to show what T-Mobile’s network can do.”
Spectrum, spectrum, spectrum
Clearly, there are differences among the different spectrum bands that operators are using, said Ookla London-based analyst Sylwia Kechiche.
“What we see in the U.S. is some really interesting dynamics when it comes to spectrum ownership,” she told Fierce. “T-Mobile is really leveraging the large amount of mid-band spectrum that they have.”
The question is how fast can AT&T and Verizon roll out mid-band spectrum to narrow the gap with T-Mobile. Both acquired C-band spectrum, which they’re rolling out in stages as it becomes available. AT&T also purchased 3.45 GHz spectrum last year to boost its mid-band arsenal.
During a Citi investor event earlier this month, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said his company has deployed C-band in about 72 markets, but “there’s 402 markets where we have the spectrum,” so there are plenty more markets to come. Verizon expects to cover 200 million people with C-band by the end of the first quarter of 2023.
In mid-December, T-Mobile said it had reached its year-end 2022 target of covering 260 million people with its Ultra Capacity 5G, which includes the mid-band spectrum. The company out-covers AT&T and Verizon by a substantial margin, noted Cowen analysts in a January 12 report.
“Admittedly, Verizon lags T-Mobile in coverage, but has shown promise with the accelerated deployment of C-band now playing the catchup game and attempting to close the network gap,” Cowen analysts wrote, noting that AT&T was targeting only about 130 million people covered with mid-band by the end of 2022.
What’s the difference between 4G and 5G?
A lot of people are questioning whether 5G is really that much better than 4G LTE. A headline in The Wall Street Journal last week summed it up: “It’s Not Just You: 5G Is a Big Let-down.”
According to Ookla, 4G LTE Q4 2022 overall median mobile download speeds for all providers combined was 30.28 Mbps. 5G Q4 2022 overall median mobile download speeds for all providers combined was 133.47 Mbps, so 5G is a showing a difference in this category, even if it’s not evident all the time – and some would argue, most of the time.
With 5G, “we haven’t seen killer applications that we’ve seen with 4G,” Kechiche said. While 4G helped popularize a lot of oft-cited apps like Uber and provided the launch pad for social media on smartphones, 5G hasn’t achieved anything close to that status.
5G is touted for improving AR/VR and immersive experiences, but a lot of those are still in development. Once there are more applications and services that leverage the types of features that 5G offers, “I guess it’s going to be a no-brainer, but it’s a Catch 22,” Kechiche said. Operators have to build the networks for people to be able to deploy new devices and services, but it’s hard to justify the buildout when those services aren’t yet available.
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