AT&T has the “nation’s best network” according to a study released Wednesday by Virginia-based Global Wireless Solutions, an independent testing firm.
Verizon was the runner-up, followed by would-be merger partners T-Mobile and Sprint. It was the second straight year in which AT&T snagged GWS’s top honors.
That’s all well and good except as recently as July, Verizon was declared as having the fastest and best network in the first half of 2019, with AT&T next in line. That was according to tests from another independent firm, RootMetrics, which had Verizon wearing the crown 12 times in a row.
The fiercely competitive wireless business often comes down to network bragging rights, so it’s not surprising when carriers crow about finishing first on this or that test.
How and by whom such tests are conducted and weighted are enormous factors. “As Stalin once said, ‘(It) is not important who votes, but who counts the votes,’” says Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics.
And the outcomes do vary.
In June, PCMag.com reported that AT&T had slipped past Verizon (which had won the previous five years), as the “fastest mobile network” in its 2019 drive tests.
A July 2019 report by OpenSignal, though, rated Verizon as being best for 4G reliability and video experience and T-Mobile best for download and upload speeds.
And in its own recent tests, Ookla said that AT&T was fastest, but that Verizon was the most consistent and also had its average user spend a higher percentage of time on LTE.
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The bottom line for any given consumer is how a network performs in areas where the person lives, work or often travels, not to mention how much the plan costs. Suffice it to say results can vary, which is why the return of T-Mobile’s Test Drive initiative, which allows you to try out the nation’s No. 3 wireless carrier with your own phone for 30 days, is potentially so valuable.
For its part, GWS conducted tests in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, by driving nearly 1 million miles in 501 markets across major metropolitan areas, smaller urban cities, and rural towns. The territory represented a total population of more than 308 million, or 94% of the country.
GWS used Samsung Galaxy devices in the tests, along with specialized benchmarking gear, the company’s own data reporting platform and big data analytics. The metrics were combined with results from third-party polling of 5,000 consumers, who still consider making and receiving voice calls the most common and important activity and find network reliability a lot more important than network speed.
Besides winning in overall performance, AT&T took first place in the GWS tests for download speeds, capacity stress, video accessibility, successfully completely a call, and having the fewest number of dropped calls.
T-Mobile was rated as having the best voice quality, however, while Verizon had the fastest upload speeds for posting videos, photos and other social media content.
Sprint was the only member of the big four to not finish first in any of the GWS voice or data tests.
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