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T-Mobile, Sprint Close In on Verizon, AT&T For Best Mobile Network

Surveys about the best wireless service get a lot of attention, which has led to an ever-increasing number of surveys. Each has its own methodology, metrics and rankings. On Tuesday, Rootmetrics, an early player in the mobile ranking game, came out with its latest findings.

As in the past, Verizon ranked best overall and topped five national categories, including network reliability, network speed and data performance. AT&T generally came in second in the rankings which covered performance measured in the first half of 2016. Sprint was second in calling and third in texting, while T-Mobile was third in most data-related categories.

But raw rankings are almost useless for consumers trying to pick among the carriers. A first place finish within an eye blink of second place may matter considerably less in the real world than a third place finisher that wallops the fourth place carrier.

And the stats provide only a snapshot in time, as all four major carriers continue to expand and reinforce their networks. Sprint and T-Mobile are making progress in closing the gap to the two larger carriers, particularly at the level of large metropolitan areas, RootMetrics said in its report.

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T-Mobile (TMUS) showed “easily the biggest jump among all carriers” in the metro area tests, winning 40 awards for strong overall service in individual markets compared with 17 awards in the prior survey, which covered the second half of 2015. Sprint won in six city areas, the same number it had won in the prior survey. But in the reliability category it jumped to 42 wins in various metro areas from 24.

Verizon (VZ) unsurprisingly crowed about the results. “These results show that all networks are not the same,” said Nicki Palmer, chief network officer for Verizon Wireless.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint (S) quibbled with some of the results but pointed to their improvements. “We’ve made significant progress,” a Sprint spokesman said. Many of the differences in rankings are due to actual differences in quality that are “indiscernible to the customer and not worth paying twice as much for.”

T-Mobile highlighted its improved standings, but also noted that Rootmetrics was one of a number of network studies and it that T-Mobile had done better in other reports.

AT&T (T) declined to comment.

(Update: This story was updated on August 23 to correct that Sprint finished second in the category of national call quality.)