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

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

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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.

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The performance of LTE by the four main U.S. operators.