When it comes to measuring the “best” wireless network in America, a very familiar pattern plays out every quarter. T-Mobile is crowned as the fastest network according to Ookla and OpenSignal, two crowdsourced companies. Other testing outfits like RootMetrics and Tutela say that Verizon is the best, a few angry blog posts get published, and everyone goes about their business.
As it happens, nothing is changing this quarter. T-Mobile has just published data from Ookla, the makers of the popular Speedtest utility, that shows T-Mobile has having the fastest average LTE download speed for the last three months.
According to the data, T-Mobile is in first place with an average download speed of 31.7Mbps, while Verizon is in a close second at 29.6Mbps. AT&T is in third with 27.9Mbps, and Sprint brings up the rear with an average download speed of 25.5Mbps.
As we’ve said before when looking at crowd-sourced testing, you have to remember the limitations of the methodology. Unlike “road tests” of networks, which involves taking identical smartphones running on different networks to a bunch of different locations all over the country and running tests, the crowdsourced reports aren’t controlled, and differences in methodology between the networks can introduce bias into the data.
However, roadtests also have their flaws. At its simplest, road-testing involves taking phones from all four carriers and driving around the country, testing the network quality head-to-head in thousands of different locations. The choice of where to run the tests obviously has a tremendous impact on the results, and critics of road-testing say that the picture it builds up of a network doesn’t accurately reflect how people actually use the network. On the other hand, road-testing is more consistent, and by using the same device side-by-side in the same physical location, most of the variables are controlled in a way that they aren’t with crowd-sourced testing.
So ultimately, you don’t want to take Ookla’s data as proof that T-Mobile is the “best” wireless network. But it’s an important data point, and more than anything else, the fact that T-Mobile has been on top for the last 19 quarters in Ookla’s tests show that it is doing something right.