2019 Speedtest® U.S. Mobile Performance Report by Ookla®
No matter how you look at it, mobile network performance has improved in the United States thus far in 2019. In Q1-Q2 2019, the U.S. ranked 40th in the world for mean download speed over mobile, which positions the country between Spain and Saudi Arabia. The U.S ranked 94th for mean upload speed, between Angola and Poland. Mobile operators are just now rolling out 5G in some of the largest cities in the U.S., which is dramatically improving speeds in those cities.
The 2019 Speedtest® U.S. Mobile Performance Report by Ookla® is based on Speedtest Intelligence® data captured during the first half of 2019. During this period, over 4.1 million unique mobile user devices were used to perform more than 11.5 million consumer-initiated cellular network tests on Speedtest apps. Ookla has analyzed those tests to determine the mobile operators with the fastest and most consistent networks across the nation and which offers the best access to LTE. In this report, we also present data on operators’ performance at the state level and in the 100 most populous cities in the country.
Mean download speed over mobile in the U.S. increased 24.0% between Q1-Q2 2018 and Q1-Q2 2019 to 33.88 Mbps. This raised the U.S. three spots in world rankings for mobile download speed over the prior year. The mean upload speed for mobile was 9.75 Mbps, up 13.0% over Q1-Q2 2018. Though the percentage increase seems significant, the numerative increase was small. As a result of this small increase and the fast pace of mobile upload improvement globally, the U.S. fell 21 spots in world rankings for mobile upload speed since Q1-Q2 2018.
Mobile network performance
The fastest operator shows the fastest speeds based on Speed Score™. Consistency refers to the provider with the best Acceptable Speed Ratio (ASR). LTE Time Spent highlights the provider with the highest Time Spent on 4G.
Data from Speedtest Intelligence reveals AT&T was the fastest mobile operator in the U.S. in Q1-Q2 2019 with a Speed Score of 32.91 on modern devices in competitive geographies. This is an increase of 45.1% over Q1-Q2 2018. T-Mobile was the second fastest (up 9.4% YoY), and Verizon Wireless the third fastest (up 9.5% YoY). Though Sprint was the slowest operator, they showed the second largest year-over-year improvement (36.8%).
Major network developments over the past year
Operators continue to expand and improve their networks across the country. This section outlines those larger improvements. A specific look at developments related to 5G appears below.
Delivering LTE service over seven licensed frequency bands and increasing the amount of seeded devices capable of four and five carrier aggregation has been paying off for AT&T. Over the past year, AT&T has managed to leapfrog the competition to produce the fastest download speeds across the country.
AT&T’s addition of FirstNet spectrum meant a required maintenance visit to cell sites and the addition of brand new hardware at those locations. AT&T wisely used this opportunity to also upgrade the existing radio access infrastructure, including replacing the aging Alcatel-Lucent equipment with Nokia in some areas and adding the 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for additional capacity. This strategy, combined with a slew of Category 15-20 LTE smartphones, meant a tremendous boost in coverage, speeds and overall capacity.
T-Mobile has expanded its LTE footprint at a furious pace thanks to the addition of 600 MHz spectrum and the agility of its network team. This greenfield frequency band will largely be the building block for T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network. However, some of this spectrum is sitting idle and waiting to be utilized. The existing 600 MHz capable radios that T-Mobile has been installing over the past year, like the Ericsson 4449, are 5G-ready and that unused portion of 600 MHz spectrum can be activated for 5G with an over-the-air software push. Once activated, the entire 600 MHz LTE coverage area will effectively become a 5G coverage area.
In several top markets, T-Mobile’s millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holdings allow them to add incremental 5G capacity. This capacity should also spur the necessary backhaul upgrades to support faster speeds and overall increases in traffic. A merger with Sprint would offer a unique blend of low, mid and high band spectrum, with the potential to deliver an impressive nationwide 5G network.
Network densification, increasing the amount of spatial streams, and adding License Assisted Access (LAA) to urban cores has maintained Verizon Wireless’ excellent performance coast-to-coast. Virtually all mid-band spectrum assets have been repurposed for LTE, and in many markets, a portion of the 850 MHz spectrum is used to fortify the coverage layer.
Verizon Wireless is almost certainly making all the necessary investments and upgrades in preparation for the upcoming 5G network expansion, including radio access that requires a robust fiber-fed backhaul network.
A year ago we wrote about the change in Sprint’s 2.5 GHz TDD frame configuration, which improved the downlink throughput, and other techniques that could boost spectral efficiency of the network. The addition of Higher Order Modulation on both downlink and uplink has improved speeds, as has dedicating more PCS spectrum to LTE. However, in order to maximize the 2.5 GHz spectrum assets, the cellular grid needs to be densified which will require a significant investment.
Upon merging, T-Mobile could solve this issue by combining its site portfolio with Sprint’s “keep” sites. This may reduce the lengthy zoning and permitting process, allowing the combined company to utilize this valuable spectrum in the shortest time possible.
Sprint’s LTE upgrades have included the installation of thousands of massive MIMO radios to existing cell sites. These radios support dual mode 4G/5G operation and can significantly increase cell site capacity. The next obvious upgrades for Sprint will be securing multi-gig fiber backhaul to support their upcoming 5G rollout and activating 4-layer MIMO, which will improve both speeds and capacity.
While many consumers are looking to get the fastest speeds possible, others still struggle to get the kind of consistent speeds that allow them to reliably use their mobile devices for common use cases like streaming HD video. This is why we also consider each operator’s Acceptable Speed Ratio (ASR) in our annual report. ASR measures what percent of each provider’s download data samples are HD-capable (equaling or exceeding 5 Mbps) on mobile.
Verizon Wireless provided the most consistent experience in competitive geographies in the U.S. during Q1-Q2 2019 with an ASR of 87.3%, a 1.0% improvement over Q1-Q2 2018. T-Mobile was the second most consistent with an ASR of 86.9% (down 0.2% YoY), AT&T the third (up 10.3% YoY) and Sprint the least (up 7.7% YoY).
When we break operators’ speeds down into 5 Mbps segments, we see that all operators show similar slopes of declining percentages of samples that fall into each progressively faster bucket up to 100 Mbps. On closer examination of the data within the slowest segment, AT&T stands out due to what appears to be the impact of network management applied to their legacy Unlimited Choice plans.
We grouped samples above 100 Mbps to see which operator is providing the most service at higher speeds. AT&T showed the largest percentage of samples above 100 Mbps, Sprint was second, T-Mobile was third and Verizon Wireless was fourth. This speed segment will see the most improvement in future years as operators expand 5G service.
Speedtest coverage data shows what percentage of time an average user spends on a given cellular technology, both on and off of their subscriber (SIM) network. We call this metric Time Spent.
Customers of all top providers in the U.S. were able to connect to 4G a majority of the time in Q1-Q2 2019. Verizon Wireless had the highest percentage of time spent on 4G and the lowest percentage with no coverage. T-Mobile had the second highest percentage of time spent on 4G and the highest with no coverage. Sprint had the third highest time spent on 4G and AT&T fourth. Both AT&T and T-Mobile fall back to HSPA or HSPA+ (which we categorize as 3G or 3.5G, respectively, in our data) when LTE is not available.
Sprint customers spent the most time roaming off network (both on 4G and 3G), though that percentage was still small.
What the rest of the country looks like
We took a special look at all of the zip codes in the U.S. that fell outside of our Competitive Geography filter to better understand the mobile experience of consumers in the rest of the country. These are typically rural areas and places where having available service is not a given. For the purposes of this report, we specifically looked at 4G Availability. 4G Availability is the percentage of an operator’s known locations where a device has access to 4G LTE service (including roaming).
Verizon Wireless showed the highest 4G Availability in these non-competitive zip codes during Q1-Q2 2019. Sprint came in a close second. T-Mobile was third and AT&T fourth.
Comparing performance on flagship devices
Device capabilities can affect a consumer’s ultimate internet experience. Looking only at the fastest 4G phones from Samsung and Apple, the Galaxy S10+ and the iPhone Xs Max, AT&T provided the fastest experience on the fastest phones during Q1-Q2 2019 in competitive geographies in the U.S. T-Mobile showed the second fastest Speed Score on both phones, Sprint third and Verizon Wireless fourth.
As we’ve detailed on the Ookla 5G Map™, three out of four major U.S. operators have launched 5G commercial services in selected markets throughout the country to date.
Verizon Wireless chose Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and Providence. These are all locations where they’ve initially allocated 400 MHz in mmWave in selected areas of the urban cores. Due to its limited propagation characteristics, the mmWave radios need to be installed much closer to user devices where they can perform the most effectively. This is why Verizon Wireless has opted for utility poles, considering the business districts are typically covered by macro sites installed on highrises. The allocated mmWave spectrum can provide peak speeds of over 2 Gbps, although Verizon Wireless can add more bandwidth at a later time to at least double this capacity.
Sprint, on the other hand, allocated 60 MHz of its 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum for 5G in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Kansas. Deploying 5G in the mid-band is slightly different than the mmWave, since the 5G radios can be installed on the existing macro network and provide a similar area of coverage to LTE in 2.5 GHz. Mid-band frequency bands can also leverage spectral efficiency-boosting higher order of MIMO, allowing users with capable smartphones to leverage up to four spatial streams as opposed to two in the mmWave. Mediatek demoed two aggregated 100 MHz channels in 2.5 GHz to deliver over 4 Gbps at MWC in Barcelona, which suggests that Sprint’s 60 MHz of spectrum allocation is capable of delivering close to 1 Gbps with 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM and sufficient backhaul to the site. Another benefit for early adopters of 5G is the technique called EN-DC (Evolved Universal Terrestrial Radio Access New Radio Dual Connectivity), which allows for carrier aggregation between the LTE user plane and 5G, further boosting speeds on user terminals.
T-Mobile recently launched six 5G markets using mmWave spectrum in the 28 and 39 GHz bands. T-Mobile 5G coverage includes an impressive footprint in Manhattan, NY, where they’ve managed to provide contiguous mmWave coverage throughout many sections of the borough. This 5G rollout is even more impressive when we consider that the operator mostly overlaid the existing low-build macro cell sites with the mmWave capable radios, and was still able to provide outdoor coverage contiguity using this range-limited spectrum. This strategy eliminated the need for acquiring new cell sites, which is a lengthy process that likely would have slowed down the 5G deployment. This is a testament to T-Mobile’s cell site density, at least in the New York City market, which has been the key for delivering solid speeds in the past. It’s worth noting that the mmWave spectrum is only a part of T-Mobile’s 5G strategy, while the 600 MHz will take care of the coverage and the nationwide 5G footprint. This low-band spectrum is already being deployed nationwide and will likely be utilized for 5G as soon as the capable smartphones become commercially available.
AT&T has launched 5G in the mmWave in parts of 20 cities, although the AT&T branded 5G user equipment is only sold to selected developers and business customers. That said, the Speedtest results at a recent AT&T 5G press event showed an excellent network performance and we are anxiously awaiting widespread commercial availability.
All operators could eventually take advantage of beamforming to significantly reduce interference and improve speeds on 5G, but it requires work on the infrastructure side. Infrastructure vendors are expected to enable beamforming on existing 5G infrastructure via software updates in upcoming months, which should further improve speeds and overall capacity.
5G deployments in the U.S. are new enough that we have chosen not to release specific data comparing 5G performance between operators until we can look at trends over a longer period of time. We can say that we’ve seen speeds upwards of 2 Gbps in consumer tests in real-world environments. For the latest information about 5G deployments in the U.S. and around the world, visit the Ookla 5G Map and subscribe to Speedtest Insights™.
While speeds in the slowest states increased across the board, Wyoming was the slowest state in the U.S. for mean download speed over mobile during Q1-Q2 2019 for the second year in a row. Mississippi was the second slowest, Iowa third, Alaska fourth, and Oklahoma fifth.
AT&T was the fastest operator based on Speed Score in 30 states and the District of Columbia. T-Mobile was the fastest in 14 states, Verizon Wireless in four. Verizon Wireless tied in two states, with AT&T in Louisiana and with Sprint in Rhode Island.
Fastest operators and best LTE availability by city
|City||Download(Mbps)||Upload(Mbps)||Fastest Operator||Operator’s Speed Score||Most Available LTE||LTE Availability %|
|Albuquerque, New Mexico||33.24||12.05||AT&T||39.73||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Anaheim, California||36.11||12.25||AT&T||38.40||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Anchorage, Alaska||28.87||9.81||AT&T||31.76||Sprint | Verizon Wireless||99.6% | 99.6%|
|Arlington, Texas||31.49||10.14||Verizon Wireless||35.57||Sprint | Verizon Wireless||100% | 100%|
|Atlanta, Georgia||48.41||15.15||T-Mobile||51.04||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Aurora, Colorado||36.46||8.74||AT&T||44.33||Verizon Wireless||99.9%|
|Austin, Texas||35.15||9.71||Sprint||35.42||Verizon Wireless||99.9%|
|Bakersfield, California||34.03||11.21||Verizon Wireless||34.28||Verizon Wireless||99.9%|
|Baltimore, Maryland||43.25||11.25||Verizon Wireless||47.27||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Baton Rouge, Louisiana||32.66||9.23||Verizon Wireless||32.79||Sprint||100%|
|Boise, Idaho||36.83||10.28||AT&T||37.91||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Boston, Massachusetts||40.35||13.55||AT&T||43.37||Sprint | Verizon Wireless||100% | 100%|
|Buffalo, New York||30.54||9.59||T-Mobile||29.98||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Chandler, Arizona||41.98||11.07||AT&T||49.51||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Charlotte, North Carolina||30.86||9.02||AT&T||36.08||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Chesapeake, Virginia||37.19||10.79||T-Mobile||41.47||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Chicago, Illinois||37.60||11.72||Verizon Wireless||37.95||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Chula Vista, California||34.64||11.64||AT&T||37.63||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Cincinnati, Ohio||41.22||11.67||Verizon Wireless||45.16||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Cleveland, Ohio||41.48||10.54||T-Mobile||40.50||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Colorado Springs, Colorado||35.71||9.31||Sprint||39.23||Verizon Wireless||99.9%|
|Columbus, Ohio||43.86||11.17||AT&T||41.16||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Corpus Christi, Texas||32.10||9.83||T-Mobile||32.10||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Dallas, Texas||33.59||10.74||Verizon Wireless||35.20||Verizon Wireless||100%|
|Denver, Colorado||37.88||9.73||AT&T||43.05||Verizon Wireless||100%|
Looking at Q1-Q2 2019 mobile performance in the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., Minneapolis was the city with the fastest mean download speed for the second year in a row. St. Paul ranked second, Atlanta third, Pittsburgh fourth and Fort Wayne fell to fifth place.
With only a 2.8% increase in mean download speed, Laredo was the slowest city on our list for the second year running. Madison was second slowest, followed by Fresno, Oklahoma City and Stockton.
AT&T was the fastest mobile operator in 52 of the largest cities in the U.S. Verizon Wireless was the fastest in 20 cities. T-Mobile was fastest in 16 cities and Sprint was fastest in 10. Verizon Wireless and AT&T tied in New Orleans and San Antonio saw a three-way tie between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
Data from Speedtest Intelligence also indicates how likely a user, on average, is to have LTE service available in the places they go. For the purposes of this report we specifically looked at 4G Availability (the percentage of an operator’s known locations where a device has access to LTE service, including roaming). During Q1-Q2 2019, Verizon Wireless had the best 4G Availability in 85 cities and Sprint in three. Sprint and Verizon Wireless tied for 4G Availability in ten cities. T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless tied in one. Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless tied in one.
While Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile have commercially launched 5G in selected locations, AT&T was the fastest operator in the U.S. as a whole and in 30 states and 52 of the largest cities in the country. AT&T also showed the fastest speeds on two of the fastest devices. Verizon Wireless had the most consistent speeds and the highest 4G Availability at the country level.
Over the next 12 months we will likely see many more 5G rollouts, and almost certainly the first nationwide 5G network. As the mmWave speeds approach and exceed 2 Gbps, we should start seeing T-Mobile’s rollout of 5G in the fallow 600 MHz spectrum. Verizon Wireless and AT&T will likely start leveraging DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing) solutions, which will allow them to concurrently operate both LTE and the 5G network out of the same spectrum allocation. This will enable mobile operators to deliver nationwide 5G networks using existing spectrum assets without refarming legacy spectrum. The use of 10 Gbps fiber circuits will hopefully become the norm for 5G sites, at least in the urban markets. All of this should increase speeds and improve coverage and quality of mobile service across the nation.