For the longest time, there was a Big Two of mobile networks. AT&T and Verizon were the only players with good coverage, and T-Mobile/Sprint/US Cellular were for the poor people.
Well, times they are a-changing. The latest comprehensive report actually has T-Mobile as the overall winner, with Verizon and AT&T within licking distance as second and third. Sprint, meanwhile, is really just trying to remind everyone it exists.
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The report comes from OpenSignal, a company that persuades users to download an app, which then quietly runs speed tests in the background. It has billions of data points from hundreds of thousands of users, and as such provides the best picture of network coverage, quality and speed.
The two factors that really matter are availability and speed. Availability is how often you get a signal (we’re talking 4G signal here, because it’s 2016) and speed, of course, is how fast it is.
Verizon wins availability by a hair: its subscribers have a 4G signal 86% of the time, T-Mobile 83%, and AT&T 80%. Sprint? 69%. (Lol.)
For speed, T-Mobile actually wins, at an average download of 16Mbps. Verizon and AT&T are both in the double digits, while Sprint finishes in last with 9Mbps. Seeing a trend here?
The only category Sprint does well is latency (ping), which it actually won. But if you can tell the difference between 57 milliseconds and 64 milliseconds, let me know because I’ve got some game show buzzers for you to press.
This is particularly interesting, because Sprint’s latest advertising campaign (for which they poached Verizon’s former front man!) centers around the idea that Sprint is as good as all the other networks. No, really: “it’s 2016, and every network is great.” All true! Apart from Sprint.
Numbers aside, the conclusion is clear. The gap between T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T is pretty tiny, and regional differences aside, you’ll be equally happy with the service you get from any of them. What it really comes down to is price, which is where T-Mobile has been winning big: between low prices on simple-to-understand contracts, unlimited data for Spotify and Netflix, and free movie tickets, it’s making a solid case to be number one.