Closing The Mobile Network Gap: T-Mobile Gains On Verizon, Sprint Falls Behind

Mobile Network Wars Heat Up

OpenSignal's February 2017 "State of Mobile Networks Survey" found that T-Mobile, the so-called "uncarrier," is giving the incumbent carriers a run for their money.

The latest report from OpenSignal measured network performance of the four major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, during Q4 2016. The results highlighted the superior wireless network performance of two carriers, in particular, T-Mobile and Verizon, who tied for both the fastest 4G network and fastest overall network.

Here's what the OpenSignal survey found, and how the four major carriers fared regarding network performance.

The Survey

OpenSignal, a wireless testing company, measures the coverage and performance of mobile operators worldwide. Rather than measure network performance through test simulations, OpenSignal conducts its surveys by crowdsourcing its data from more than 15 million wireless users that have downloaded the OpenSignal App.

Once downloaded, the OpenSignal app measures network availability and reliability by tracking performance continually, regardless of the user's location -- indoors, outdoors, or in a rural and urban setting, according to the company.

OpenSignal said its most recent survey measured national and regional coverage of the four major wireless carriers in the U.S. from Oct. 1 2016-Dec. 31, 2016, using a sample size of 4.6 billion measurements from 169,683 smartphone users.

Surprising Findings

Perhaps the biggest surprise that the February 2017 "State of Mobile Networks Survey" uncovered was that T-Mobile and Verizon are neck and neck in 4G network speed. The two carrier competitors tied for first place in both the 4G category. While T-Mobile did take the lead ahead of Verizon in 4G speed rankings in an OpenSignal survey six months ago, Verizon has caught up, the survey found.

T-Mobile and Verizon took the two top spots -- or sometimes tying for first place -- in all network performance rankings, including overall download speed, 3G speed, 4G speed, 4G latency and 3G latency.

"In no report has the clash between the two operators been so heated," the OpenSignal report said. "Either Verizon or T-Mobile won or shared every single national award in our report."


Dallas-based AT&T did not pick up gold in any category in the most recent OpenSignal survey. The carrier came in third place for the 4G availability group, behind T-Mobile, with testers finding a signal 82.2 percent of the time. AT&T also landed in third place for the 4G download speed category, second place in the 3G download speed category behind T-Mobile, and third in the overall download speed category.

The survey found that the AT&T network had the highest level of 4G latency out of all four carriers.


While all four wireless providers saw significant improvements in their 4G availability scores, Sprint made the most improvements over the past six months, jumping up by nearly 7 percent, the survey found. The Overland Park, Kansas-based provider still landed in last place in OpenSignal's 4G availability rankings, but the company said that Sprint is "definitely improving quickly." It's 4G availability score was 76.8 percent.

Sprint came in fourth place in overall download speeds, as well as 4G download speeds, and third place for 3G download speeds.


While Verizon took a slight edge over T-Mobile when it came to 4G availability pushing the Bellevue, Wash.-based carrier into second place, OpenSignal said that T-Mobile has been closing the gap, picking up a 4G availability score of 86.6 percent. "In the fourth quarter its 4G availability was less than two percentage points below Verizon’s, the closest we’ve seen that difference,’ OpenSignal said.

The so-called "uncarrier" tied with Verizon for first place in 4G download speed. T-Mobile also had the lowest amount of latency on its 3G network, picking up first place in the category.


Verizon beat T-Mobile for first place for 4G availability, with testers picking up a Verizon LTE signal just over 88 percent of the time, according to OpenSignal.

While the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based carrier tied with T-Mobile in 4G download speeds, as well as the overall speed category, Verizon claimed victory in the 4G network latency category, boasting the most responsive network, OpenSignal said. Verizon came in last place for its 3G download speeds, as well as 3G latency.