The 5G landscape is changing swiftly across the US, but according to recent testing from RootMetrics, T-Mobile currently has a solid lead in "Everyday 5G" availability. At the same time, according to the testing firm's new 5G scorecard, AT&T leads in Everyday 5G download speeds, while Verizon provides top Everyday 5G data reliability in most cities.
To compare the three carriers, RootMetrics tested 5G performance in 65 cities in the first half of 2021. It's an incomplete survey -- RootMetrics tests the 125 most populated metros in the US every six months -- but it provides a glimpse of the progress the carriers are making.
RootMetrics has also coined the term "Everyday 5G" to reflect the actual user experience. The "Everyday 5G" metric combines both 5G-only results as well as results in "5G Mixed Mode" (when a user switches between 5G and 4G LTE during the same data task). Mixed Mode occurs because currently, most 5G networking is non-standalone (NSA) -- meaning it relies on existing 4G infrastructure.
"At times, consumers will spend an entire data session just on 5G (what we call '5G-only')," RootMetrics' Dave Andersen wrote in a blog post. "At other times, consumers will shift momentarily between 5G and 4G LTE (what we call 'Mixed Mode'). Indeed, as 5G has expanded, the user experience of switching between 5G and 4G LTE during the same data activity happens far more often today than it did during early deployments."
While RootMetrics has tested 65 cities so far this year, it broke out the results for the 20 most-recently tested cities, since the market is changing so quickly. Across all 65 markets tested so far this year, T-Mobile had the highest Everyday 5G availability within 44 cities, including 14 of the most-recently tested.
The figures in the charts don't always add up to 65 for a variety of reasons, such as ties between carriers, Andersen said to ZDNet. Additionally, not every carrier offers 5G in every city tested.
The speed and reliability categories are based on multiple metrics, and a leader must have the best results across all the various metrics in the same city. For example, if one carrier has the fastest median and fifth percentile speeds in Seattle, but another has the fastest ninety-fifth percentile speed, there is no leader for the city.
By those metrics, AT&T offers the fastest Everyday 5G download speeds in 15 cities, the most of the three carriers.
Meanwhile, Verizon had the highest Everyday 5G data reliability success rates in 47 cities. This category looked at the number of cities in which a carrier registered the highest Everyday 5G data reliability success rates for both getting connected and staying connected in the same city.