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Extensive study finds Verizon speeds slowed after unlimited data was introduced

Published Aug 2nd, 2017 8:51AM EDT
Best wireless network for unlimited: Verizon vs T-Mobile

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Verizon’s wireless network saw slower average speeds across the country after the introduction of unlimited data plans, a new report from OpenSignal has found. Although Verizon’s network is probably still the “best” in the country, according to the majority of the network tests out there, the introduction of unlimited data plans appears to have stressed the network nationwide.

The OpenSignal report found that over the last six months, Verizon’s average speed dropped by 2Mbps, compared to the six months before. AT&T, which also introduced an unlimited data plan early this year, saw data speeds drop by 1Mbps.

Verizon spokesperson Howard Waterman wouldn’t directly address the drop in speeds, citing a lack of data, but he did point BGR to numerous other studies that rank Verizon as the fastest network in the US (which we’ll come to later). T-Mobile’s CTO Neville Ray, for his part, said that “OpenSignal gathers billions of tests from actual wireless customers, including those of AT&T and Verizon. They confirm what EVERY other scientific measure of customer experience finds – T-Mobile’s network is now going to toe-to-toe with Verizon and AT&T … and winning.”

The drop in speeds is worrying for Verizon, particularly after Ookla — the company behind popular website — also recorded a drop in Verizon speeds following the introduction of unlimited data plans. But the drop in speeds has to be taken in perspective.

Verizon’s average speed dropped to 14.9Mbps, down around 2Mbps since February. That’s not good news for Verizon, but it’s also questionable whether most customers will have noticed the difference. Depending on the video, HD content streams fine at around 5Mbps. Heck, high-speed broadband is only defined as 25Mbps for homes by the FCC. Without even asking, it’s safe to assume that most Verizon customers would prefer to have unlimited data at 15Mbps than 5GBs of data at 17Mbps.

The drop in speed plays into the narrative that T-Mobile has been promoting since February, though. A few months ago, data from Ookla — the company behind — claimed that Verizon’s network was slowing, and was now in third place behind T-Mobile and AT&T. T-Mobile claimed that Verizon’s network was “struggling” under unlimited data, but the real picture is far more complicated than that.

Ranking mobile networks is a complicated business, as we’ve said before. There’s a bunch of different ways to test a network, and they all give different results. This OpenSignal test puts T-Mobile comfortably in first place, but the data is collected by millions of users in different locations at different times of day, using different smartphones. It’s useful for giving us trends over time — like Verizon getting slower since introducing unlimited — but less good for working out which network will let you make a call at 11PM in Winter Garden, Florida.

The OpenSignal report, relying on crowdsourced data, ranked T-Mobile as the best network in every single category. A RootMetrics report published a week ago, which uses drive testing that has fewer data points but is more consistent, pegged Verizon as the best network in the world, ever.

The truth is probably somewhere between the two. Verizon has the better network in rural areas and indoors, thanks to better low-band spectrum (which travels further and better through buildings) and decades of investment. T-Mobile is catching up, particularly in cities, where the OpenSignal report had T-Mobile and Verizon level-pegging.

Which network is better? That’s a question you’re going to have to answer for yourself. But there’s one trend that is most definitely emerging: Verizon and T-Mobile are the only game left in town. Verizon is sitting on the (current) best network in town, with mountains of cash and spectrum to defend. T-Mobile is spending billions on a new network to rival Verizon’s coverage, and is aggressively dragging customers off every other network.

Whatever color your allegiance, this is the best time in the last 10 years to have a cell contract.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.