T-Mobile USA Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) built on a lead it established last summer to once again claim the title as the fastest 3G and 4G mobile networks in the United States. The company wrestled the top spot away from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and not only kept its lead, but widened it.
On the six measurements made by network monitoring firm OpenSignal, T-Mobile ranked first in five, while AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) claimed the lowest latency on 4G networks. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) continues to trail its three competitors but has quadrupled its average speed to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) and raised its availability score by nine points.
When OpenSignal published monitoring results last August, both AT&T and Verizon showed steadily declining 4G network speed that was attributed to the reintroduction of unlimited data plans. Verizon has since reversed that decline and its network has recovered to data speeds level with the pre-unlimited data plans.
In the category of download speed, T-Mobile averaged LTE downloads of 19.4 Mbps in OpenSignal’s fourth-quarter measurements, compared to Verizon’s average of 17.8 Mbps. At the end of the summer, T-Mobile’s combined 3G/4G download speed was just over 16 Mbps, significantly faster than Verizon’s 13.3 Mbps speed.
T-Mobile led in the national 4G speed metric, but when it competed head to head with Verizon in 33 markets the differences were small. T-Mobile either won outright or tied for the 4G speed award in 24 of the 33 markets, while Verizon won or tied for the award in 23 markets.
In addition to network speed, availability of a 4G connection also improved. Both Verizon and T-Mobile posted 4G availability scores of more than 90%. A year ago no carrier reached that level.
The OpenSignal researchers offered a look at what to expect in 2018:
2018 could prove to be an even more unpredictable year than its predecessor for the U.S. mobile industry. T-Mobile may have emerged as the dominant operator in our metrics, but it would be a mistake to dismiss Verizon. Big Red has a history of making big network moves when under pressure. … In 2018, we’ll find out if Verizon’s unlimited struggles amount to just a minor pit stop in the 4G race or whether Verizon has been lapped by T-Mobile. We’ll see if Sprint can continue its 4G momentum and for the first time challenge its three larger competitors in our core metrics. The stakes couldn’t be higher in 2018. The first 5G networks may still be years away, but the foundations of those 5G services will be built on the 4G infrastructure we use today. The more power the operators build into their LTE systems, the better prepared they’ll be to offer the next generation of mobile services.