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Study finds AT&T leads 5G race in reliability, download speeds

T-Mobile earned high praise for the most 5G network availability, while Verizon was commended for improving its 5G access.

T-Mobile earned high praise for the most 5G network availability, while Verizon was commended for improving its 5G access.

(Image: AT&T/Graphic: The Desk)

When the average consumer considers which wireless phone company has the best 5G wireless network, they likely gravitate toward Verizon because of its long-time network reliability or T-Mobile because of its vast marketing campaigns touting superior 5G service.

But a new study indicates consumers should strongly consider AT&T, especially if download speeds and network reliability are factors in their decision to choose a carrier.

According to a new study released by the analytics firm RootMetrics, AT&T leads its closest two rivals when it comes to 5G network reliability and 5G download speeds.

The survey was conducted across 45 major cities where AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon provide service. T-Mobile was the only carrier that offered some form of 5G service in each city evaluated by RootMetrics, followed by AT&T (44 cities) and Verizon (43 cities).

The study found AT&T consistently offered the best median download speeds across its 5G wireless network, with most users getting somewhere between 25 megabits per second (Mb/s) and 100 Mb/s when accessing 5G on AT&T. T-Mobile came in second place for that same category, while Verizon placed third.

RootMetrics concluded that AT&T and T-Mobile’s success in that space largely has to do with each company’s decision early on to invest in low-band and mid-band spectrum for their 5G wireless networks. That compares to Verizon, which was an early entrant into the 5G race with its investment in milli-meter wave technology, which offers ultra-fast speeds but has a significantly smaller range.

Last year, Verizon‘s 5G service was accessible by RootMetrics in just one of the 45 cities surveyed, but that number climbed significantly this year thanks to the carrier’s recent decision to tap into a new technology called dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), which allows Verizon to offer 4G LTE and 5G service using the same spectrum.

That decision helped earn Verizon good marks when it comes to 5G reliability and put it on par with T-Mobile when it came to 5G download speeds, RootMetrics said.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile was praised for showing progress in its 5G wireless offering. RootMetrics found T-Mobile’s 5G download speeds increased dramatically this year compared to last, owed in large part to the company’s decision to prioritize its 5G wireless build out across its low-band, medium-band and milli-meter wave spectrum.

“While T-Mobile is currently ahead of the competition when it comes to 5G availability, AT&T is in the lead for speed, and AT&T and Verizon are both offering the top 5G data reliability performance,” RootMetrics said, adding that the 5G wireless race is far from over and that the race can best be described as “a marathon, and not a sprint.”

“The current leaderboard could shift quickly if T-Mobile can continue to show improved speeds along with its already broad availability, or if Verizon can pair its rapid 5G expansion with faster speeds going forward,” the analytics firm proclaimed.

RootMetrics said it used the latest-generation Samsung Galaxy phones that were purchased at retail in order to perform its evaluation. Those phones all sported 5G wireless antennas, according to the company.

The 45 communities where the company tested 5G service across the three networks included Denver, Phoenix and Milwaukee and other major metropolitan areas, coupled with large- and mid-sized cities, including Modesto (California), El Paso (Texas), Hartford (Connecticut) and Tulsa (Oklahoma).

(Disclosure: At the time of publication, the author of this story owned a small amount of common stock in T-Mobile. Previously, the author owned a small amount of common stock in AT&T.)

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).