The state of US LTE: T-Mobile reigns, Sprint suffers

The state of US LTE: T-Mobile reigns, Sprint suffers

Summary: Despite numerous LTE rollouts, many US subscribers are still frustrated thanks to low speeds and network congestion.

TOPICS: Mobility, Networking
Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 15.18.24

Telecommunications firms may be launching 4G LTE networks worldwide, but over-subscribed networks, spectrum limits, and coverage woes are forcing down the average speed of our data.

OpenSignal's latest mobile networks report, the State of LTE in the US in February 2014, reveals the companies that have improved their coverage the most in recent times, and shows us the differences between the four main U.S. networks -- Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T -- in regards to both speed and coverage.

While fourth-generation networks offer improved speeds on existing 3G and HSPA+ technologies, speeds that the network can hypothetically achieve often differ from the service consumers experience. Oversubscription, infrastructure requiring improvement and a lack of spectrum resources can all contribute to low speeds -- and OpenSignal says in general, the US reported lower speeds than most other advanced LTE networks worldwide.

However, speed is not the only important aspect to consider when rating LTE networks -- access also counts. Within OpenSignal's report, the extent to which users are actually able to access the network, "Time on LTE" rather than connecting to 3G or having no Web access at all, is also a factor within a network's overall performance.

OpenSignal says that out of the top four US network providers, T-Mobile has offered the fastest service in the US over the last three months, with an average speed of 11.5 Mbps. Sprint has one of the slowest networks worldwide at 4.3Mbps. In comparison, Australia's average LTE speed is 24.5 Mbps, which highlights how slow US networks can be.

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The "Time on LTE" metric, relying on user experience for coverage rather than geography, shows that Verizon performs best within this category, with the average user having access to LTE 83.2 percent of the time over the last three months. While T-Mobile offers good speeds, the firm's network sadly performed only slightly better than the worst entry in the category -- Sprint -- which gave users LTE access on average only 56.5 percent of the time.

The performance of mobile networks tends to fluctuate -- especially as spectrum battles abound and subscriber rates rise due to the rapid adoption of mobile technology within the last decade. As a result, operators are continually altering and upgrading their infrastructure and rolling out to new areas -- but oversubscription continues to place strain on both 3G and LTE networks.

OpenSignal says that the average US subscriber is enjoying more frequent access to LTE networks across the board due to these improvements, but US average speeds paint a picture which is far less clear.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 15.18.48
The performance of LTE by the four main U.S. operators.


Topics: Mobility, Networking

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  • Sprint

    And Sprint wonders why people are worried when they want to buy T-Mobile...
    • Sprint has always had

      an overinflated view of their services and devices. What other carrier has had the chutzpah to "fire" over a million customers, simply because they had the temerity to demand better service?

      Back when I worked for Radio Shack, and the Sprint PCS system was tolled out, I was constantly butting heads with the idiot reps, who knew little about radio communication, and less about positive human interaction. They were constantly telling me that things such as crosstalk were impossible with digital communications, and, while I agreed that technically was correct, I demonstrated for them a place not 4 miles from the store I worked at that regularly could be shown to have two or more conversations audible when trying to place a call. These mental midgets, and their supervisors, were constant deniers of things which were easily shown to happen, and, even when shown, were not going to accept one iota of responsibility.

      When I went to training in Ft Worth, I found that these ideas and positions were pervasive, and I was not going to change anyone's mind with mere facts.

      It was then when I decided to never sell another Sprint phone without first letting the customer know of the possible [likely] pitfalls of Sprint purchase.

      After speaking with many people who had been Sprint telephone [landline] customers, I found that the same attitudes prevailed.

      It amazes me that Sprint continues as a viable company - it proves that companies are capable of limited success in spite of the worst management. [It gives hope for the US Congress.]
      • GSM only

        The real problem is the government not forcing all mobile carriers to use ONE standard (GSM) instead of allowing each carrier to be incompatible for the sake of anti-competitiveness. Non GSM networks should be phased out by government like every other country in the world (except Japan).
        It gives the users limited choice in phones when they are not using GSM networks and makes overseas travel using their own phone almost impossible. The situation with US mobile carriers is the most retarded in the world. It happens to play into the hands of Apple as they make handsets for all US carriers which is the only reason they have a decent market share in the USA. Apple also has good market share in Japan because they use CDMA. Apart from those countries, Apple has much lower market shares in countries with GSM only networks.
        • Except that

          CDMA is superior to GSM. The only reason GSM flourishes is due to the licensing cost of CDMA technology, whereas there is none with GSM.
          • CDMA

            is superior to the old TDMA and EDGE technologies, not the newer standard HSDPA or HSUPA tech, and obviously not superior to LTE which is also standardized.
        • GSM is substandard compared to CDMA.

          I am very glad the government did not try to do engineering and pick GSM years ago.
          • substandard?

            If you are refering to data speeds compared maybe 5 years ago.
            These days, CDMA networks are struggling with band aid solutions to adding high speed data to their networks while remaining backwards compatible with respect to voice calls.
            They are really running 2 networks instead of one.
            GSM handles multiplexing better so that simultaneous voice and data over a single antenna is not an issue. GSM is more scalable than the CDMA networks.
        • GSM is substandard compared to CDMA.

          I am very glad the government did not try to do engineering and pick GSM years ago.
  • T-Mobile faster than Verizon?

    Its funny hearing that T-Mobile is the fastest at 11.5 Mbps! Especially when their service is horrible everywhere around here by me, and I average between 45-70 Mbps with Verizon 4G LTE in my area
    • Averages and Personal Experiences

      Rarely match up perfectly.
      luke mayson
    • well obviously

      your personal experience doesn't represent national averages. I get 40Mbps with Tmo when everyone around me gets 10 on Verizon. 1 place doesn't represent the country. you figure out what's best for you and the rest of us will do the same, and we can compare on a national scale with data like this.
  • Again shows the obvious

    With the exception of Sprint (but a lot of other factors play in) and AT&T where speed flies in the face of normal rules) the point is true - the more supported by a network the slower it is. Unless of course you're Sprint and have neither the coverage or the speed. T-Mobile would slow down if their network had a number of users in line with its size.

    And also shows why comparing U.S. service to other countries is pointless. Yes, South Korea is faster - but it also has a LOT of government help, and a much smaller geographic area covered multiple times. Major differences there. And unless our carriers get some of the same breaks (here for example, the process to erect a new cell tower is considerably more convoluted than I bet it is in a lot of other countries - especially in Asia) this will be the status quo. Eventually technology will overcome the bureaucracy and all, but until then...
  • Why does it matter? Phones are audio devices first

    and don't require high speed or bandwidth. The sooner the idiots who use smartphones realize this, the better off we will be. There is not enough spectrum to do all that the pushers of this inane concept wish, no matter the amount of space stolen from other, more useful and necessary services.
    • disagree

      Firstly, voice calls over GSM requires low latency (high priority) bandwidth. The most efficient forms of communication is by instant messaging which uses low bandwidth and low priority (high latency) bandwidth. That is what smartphones are being used for more than voice calls.
      The less people make voice calls and the more people use low priority bandwidth, the better for the networks.
      The problem is there is little categorising of data priority for efficient bandwidth management so instant messaging gets the same level as web browsing or any internet traffic.
  • Too bad TMo has such poor coverage.

    You are lucky to even have any signal most of the time.