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Chasing T-Mobile: 5G report shows how vital C-Band is for Verizon and AT&T

Opensignal's latest measurement of 5G user experience across the country showed T-Mobile's use of mid-band spectrum dominating the more sporadic, but faster ,service areas provided by AT&T and Verizon's high-frequency 5G services.

In its final 5G Experience report based on data taken prior to AT&T and Verizon beginning their oft-delayed C-Band spectrum launches, Opensignal declared T-Mobile the winner in all but two of the categories it tracks with Verizon Wireless taking the last two. 

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The January 2022 edition of the Opensignal report used data collected prior to the newly-launched C-Band markets that caused so much tumult among the US air travel and transport industries going live. It appears, at least according to Opensignal, that the duo simply couldn't compete with T-Mobile's 5G network in terms of speed or availability prior to their respective C-Band launch. 

According to Opensignal's measurements, T-Mobile's availability was more than twice that of its nearest competitor. Opensignal found that a usable 5G signal was available to T-Mobile customers 35.4% of the time, during its measurement period, on average. Meanwhile, AT&T customers only had access to true 5G 16.5% of the time, and Verizon Wireless subs had it just 9.5% of the time. 

Opensignal points to T-Mobile's reliance on the mid-band 2.5GHz spectrum range as the main carrier band for its 5G services as the main reason for its reach. AT&T and Verizon's recent C-Band launches are their first wide-scale venture into mid-band 5G, with almost all of their previous launches relying on much higher frequency technologies like mmWave to deliver faster speeds. 

While higher frequencies generally translate into faster download and upload rates, the accompanying downside is much shorter range and poorer penetration into buildings than mid-range bands can provide. The C-Band launches at both companies should help to shrink T-Mobile's lead in this category for future studies. 

In the meantime, T-Mobile also captured the trophy for speed with an average download rate across all measured 5G devices of 150Mbps. Verizon's measurement was about a third of that at 56.2Mbps. AT&T came in third with 49.1Mbps. 

The second and third-place carriers both offer select coverage areas where their 5G services provide download rates much faster than what T-Mobile's current network is capable of, those figures are dragged down by the much larger portions of the country where AT&T and Verizon's 5G offerings are barely any faster than their older 4G networks. It's a bit of a tortoise and the hare situation, with T-Mobile's slower but much more widely available mid-band 5G providing an average, a nationwide speed well ahead of what either competitor can currently offer, thanks entirely to its ubiquity.  

This ability of mid-band 5G to provide both speed and range is what makes it so vital to Verizon and AT&T's future network plans and why both companies have spent tens of billions of dollars in recent Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions to acquire more and more of it. It's also why they were both so adamant about launching their respective C-Band offerings, despite the regulatory kerfuffle with the aviation industry mentioned above. 

Verizon Wireless did take home at least some trophies this go-round. The company won both of Opensignal's newer measurement categories: 5G Games Experience and 5G Voice App Experience. 

The 5G Games Experience category measures 5G Network performance for "real-time multiplayer mobile gaming" on a scale of 1-100, accounting for factors like latency, packet loss, and jitter. Verizon took first place here with 79.9 out of 100 for performance, while AT&T took second at 72.7, and T-Mobile scored last with 72.4

5G Voice App Experience, meanwhile, provides a similar 1-100 metric for the companies' 5G performance across "over-the-top (OTT) voice services." This includes apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Messenger, and others. Verizon also scored a narrow victory here, hitting 82.2 out of 100. AT&T was once again in second place with 80.6, while T-Mobile was just behind with 80.6 in third. 

While Opensignal's latest 5G Experience Report showed just how vital mid-band 5G spectrum can be, its next will likely be its most important in years; it will outline what kind of progress C-Band launches are providing in AT&T's and Verizon's ongoing efforts to catch up to T-Mobile's 5G network.

The full January 2022 5G Experience Report is available at Opensignal's website. 

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