Bill Moore, CEO of RootMetrics, sheds light on the battle for superiority in the LTE space.
The big story in mobile network performance continues to be LTE, which has moved from more of a novelty or luxury to an almost standard offering from the networks—and our testing shows that the battle for LTE bragging rights could be entering an exciting phase. For businesses in particular, LTE speeds offer the promise of increased productivity, while the expansion of LTE coverage can keep you connected at an ever-increasing rate. Recognizing the power and potential of this technology, the carriers are building not just their networks but their marketing around LTE.
- AT&T claims its LTE network covers nearly 280 million people.
- Sprint says it now offers LTE in over 470 markets and is advancing its tri-band Spark network.
- T-Mobile advertises LTE coverage to over 200 million people.
- Verizon states that more than 97% of the population is covered by its LTE network and is strongly pushing its XLTE offering.
Yet this marketing noise doesn’t do much to clarify how performance compares. What’s needed is an established standard to cut through the noise and show how each LTE network performs under real-world circumstances, during the activities that everyday people do every day. To that end, we’ve brought together results of our testing from the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014 to show exactly where each network has been and where each might be headed.
LTE is about more than just speed
Ever since LTE first appeared on the scene, we’ve been advocates for a standard that brings your likelihood of accessing LTE into the discussion. But simply finding LTE isn’t enough either. That’s why we also looked at the reliability of each LTE network during the first half of 2014 to show how often you might experience a data failure after you are connected. After all, if you can’t access or reliably stay on LTE, those blazing-fast speeds don’t help you at all. And as more people and more data-heavy applications access those fast LTE speeds, capacity and reliability will become more and more important.
Twice each year we test the largest 125 markets in the U.S. (covering 60% of the population) to provide you the most up-to-date look at mobile network performance. To give you a sense of how the carriers compare against our more inclusive performance standards, we’ve broken down our 2013 and 2014 results along the following four metrics that point toward speed, likelihood of access, and reliability:
- Each network’s median LTE download speed, averaged across 125 markets.
- How often we were able to access LTE across all of the markets we tested.
- Each carrier’s number of markets in which we found LTE service.
- Each network’s success rate during download testing during the first half of 2014.
LTE download speed
As you can see, the big story when looking at LTE download speed is that AT&T dropped off considerably when comparing its speeds in the second half of 2013 to its speeds in the second half of 2014. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s aggressive upgrades paid big dividends, leading to an average LTE median download speed well above those of AT&T and Sprint and comparable to that of Verizon. As part of its new XLTE offering, Verizon’s recent addition of AWS spectrum also led to increased speeds and placed it neck-and-neck with T-Mobile in our look at median download speed averaged across all 125 markets.
Likelihood of accessing LTE
The good news is that each carrier showed an increase in the availability of LTE. With rates of LTE access above 95%, AT&T and Verizon stood head-and-shoulders above the other carriers. But T-Mobile’s jump from 56.3% to 78.8% is a great sign for consumers and Sprint is trending in a positive direction.
Number of markets in which LTE was available
Verizon has long been the leader in the number of LTE markets seen during our testing. AT&T has now entirely closed the gap in this regard: for the first time ever in our testing, we found AT&T’s LTE network in all of the markets we tested. Sprint and T-Mobile also made tremendous strides in this aspect of LTE coverage.
Success rate during download testing
The great news for consumers is that all of the carriers were remarkably reliable during our LTE download tests in the first half of 2014: when we averaged results across all of the markets tested, LTE success rates were at or above 97% for each carrier. If you can access LTE, these results suggest that your download experience will likely be a smooth one.
What it all means
The truism that the only constant is change rings especially true in the mobile network landscape, and the LTE race looks to be heating up.
What the crowd says
For a truly comprehensive view of LTE performance, we’ve also included a series of maps that show where users of our app have accessed LTE. Using this crowdsourced look in conjunction with our scientific testing offers the fullest LTE picture available. And because coverage continuously changes, you can check each carrier’s LTE coverage for yourself by selecting the “Best technology available” layer on our free CoverageMap.
Clearly, we are poised for an exciting second half of 2014, with the LTE race becoming tighter and tighter. Stay in touch with the race and with us at www.rootmetrics.com or on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.