Ookla's mobile networks speed report for the first half of 2018 is in, with T-Mobile taking the fastest download speed crown while Minneapolis has become the fastest city in the United States, and Minnesota the fastest state.
According to the report, the mean download speed in the US rose by 20.4 percent between last year and this year to reach 27.33Mbps. Upload speeds rose by 1.4 percent year on year to reach a mean of 8.63Mbps.
T-Mobile brought in an Ookla Speed Score of 27.86, while Verizon clocked in at 26.02, AT&T at 22.17, and Sprint at 20.38. The speed score combines 90 percent of a carrier's download speed and 10 percent their upload speed, taking the speeds from the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile at a weighted average of 1:2:1.
Ookla added that the T-Mobile merger with Sprint "could result in an unmatched network in the face of 5G".
The 10 fastest cities were Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota -- where extensive LTE upgrades were carried out ahead of Super Bowl LII -- at 44.92Mbps and 42.28Mbps, respectively. Following Minneapolis-Saint Paul were Fort Wayne, Indiana, at 38.36Mbps; San Francisco, California, at 34.64Mbps; Irvine, California, at 34.10Mbps; Kansas City, Missouri, at 33.90Mbps; Chesapeake, Virginia, at 33.84Mbps; Toledo, Ohio, at 33.83Mbps; Atlanta, Georgia, at 33.81Mbps; and Indianapolis, Indiana, at 33.56Mbps.
Despite defeating Verizon in overall speeds across the country, T-Mobile was fastest in just 33 cities while Verizon won 45. AT&T was fastest in 12 cities, while Sprint took out only five. T-Mobile and Verizon tied for Orlando and Saint Paul; T-Mobile and Sprint tied for Corpus Christi; Verizon and AT&T tied for Fresno; and AT&T and Sprint tied for Louisville.
The states with mean download speeds exceeding 30Mbps were Minnesota, which clocked in fastest at 36.80Mbps, followed by Michigan, with 32.63Mbps; New Jersey, with 31.69Mbps; Ohio, with 31.56Mbps; Massachusetts, with 31.41Mbps; Rhode Island, with 31.16Mbps; New York, with 30.42Mbps; Connecticut, with 30.31Mbps; Washington, with 30.24Mbps; and District of Columbia, with 30.08Mbps.
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Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin all had mean download speeds higher than 20Mbps.
Coming in at slower than 20Mbps were Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Across different mobile devices, T-Mobile provided a speed score of 39.43Mbps on the Samsung Galaxy S9 and 28.93Mbps on the iPhone X; Verizon 35.24Mbps on the Galaxy S9 and 29.35Mbps on the iPhone X; AT&T 33.25Mbps on the Galaxy S9 and 26.20Mbps on the iPhone X; and Sprint 30.19Mbps on the S9 and 21.79Mbps on the X.
According to Ookla, the speed differences between the Samsung and Apple devices can be attributed to the Galaxy S9's four receive antennas, which enable it to utilise more than two spatial streams in comparison to the iPhone X.
Pointing to its wins across more cities and higher speeds on the iPhone X, Verizon called itself the clear winner of the report.
"Our network was the fastest in nearly half of the 100 cities Ookla examined -- fastest in more cities than any other wireless provider by a wide margin," Verizon VP of Network Operations Mike Haberman said.
"Our network was fastest when comparing performance using the iPhone X. More than 350,000 tests conducted on the iPhone X, compared to less than 20,000 samples on the Samsung S9."
In compiling the report, Ookla took into account speed tests from more than 2.8 million unique users across 12.5 million tests and 524 million data points.
All four US carriers have been focused on upgrading their LTE networks for faster speeds and higher capacity ahead of 5G, with Verizon and Ericsson in August last year attaining speeds of 1.07Gbps across Verizon's commercial LTE mobile network using three 20MHz carriers of frequency-division duplex (FDD) spectrum, 12 simultaneous LTE streams, 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Moderation (256 QAM) per carrier.
In October, Ericsson then announced it would be deploying Massive MIMO technology across Verizon's wireless network in Irvine, California.
Verizon also announced in April this year that it is working with Nokia, Ericsson, Google, Qualcomm, Corning, and Federated Wireless to test LTE-Advanced technologies using Citizen Band Radio Spectrum (CBRS) frequencies.
Verizon is planning to launch 5G networks starting in Sacramento and Los Angeles by the end of this year.
Sprint has meanwhile been partnering with Samsung for gigabit-speed LTE, in September last year trialling Massive MIMO.
Sprint CTO John Saw told ZDNet during Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in Barcelona in February that his carrier has the best 5G spectrum, with Sprint choosing its initial six 5G markets of Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston due to their high traffic and its spectrum holdings. Sprint in May added New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City to its 5G rollout roadmap.
In November, AT&T then similarly announced deploying commercial LTE Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technology to push its network to theoretical speeds of up to 1Gbps, along with 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO), 3x carrier aggregation, and 256 QAM technologies.
AT&T is now trialling fixed-wireless 5G in Indiana, after announcing in January that it will be providing non-standalone (NSA) 5G services in around 12 markets by late 2018.
In December, T-Mobile likewise announced using LTE-LAA technology to achieve speeds of 1.1Gbps on its LTE network with Ericsson in combination with its earlier deployments of 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM.
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray told ZDNet during MWC that the carrier's 5G deployment across 30 cities this year -- Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas are to have the service by 2019 -- is "moving well", with the 600MHz LTE rollout beginning last year and much of the hardware being 5G NR capable.
In making T-Mobile's 5G announcement, Ray had emphasised LTE-Advanced upgrades would form the basis for the network, with T-Mobile planning to build its 5G offering using both 600MHz and mmWave spectrum, as well as deploying 25,000 small cells for LAA-LTE.
Updated at 9.15pm PDT, July 19: Sprint added New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City to its 5G rollout roadmap in May