Verizon Has the Fastest U.S. Network—But Not in Every Region
Amid the fierce competition of the 2017 mobile market, subscribers still need to consider network quality when they choose a carrier, according a new survey out on Monday. The results also shows that Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phone, one of the first capable of gigabit-per-second downloading, far outshone Apple’s iPhone 7.
Among the carriers, Verizon came out best overall in the nation, but the results varied widely by region and city. People living in the northeast and northwest would do better with T-Mobile. And AT&T topped the competition in the south central region of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, according to the annual study by PC Magazine.
The survey results come as the big four wireless carriers are competing like never before. Verizon and AT&T introduced broad, low-cost unlimited data plans this year, following moves by T-Mobile and Sprint last summer to dump plans with annoying, monthly data limits. Price cutting came next and, lately, Sprint is offering a year of free service for people who switch from a competitor by June 30.
But the price and terms of a mobile plan don’t matter much if there is poor coverage or slow downloading. Verizon also came out first nationally in similar tests done by Rootmetrics at the end of last year. Like Rootmetrics and other wireless network studies, PC Magazine had testers drive around the country and measure the quality of wireless network connections. Testing in 36 cities and rural areas, the magazine found almost all spots were seeing improving quality.
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“This was the tightest contest ever,” the magazine wrote. “T-Mobile has largely closed its coverage gap with Verizon within metro areas, making it an excellent lower-cost choice. And AT&T sprinted ahead this year, especially in the Southeast and Midwest. Sprint seems to have hit a speed bump, mostly in terms of consistency, but it’s also much more competitive than it was two years ago.”
Nationally, AT&T (T) had the highest average download speed of 32.6 megabits per second, fast enough to grab a typical digital high-definition movie file in about 17 minutes. Verizon (VZ) was next at 31.1 Mbps, then T-Mobile (TMUS) at 29.3 and Sprint at 20.5.
Verizon touted its overall performance. “We continue to lead the industry in network reliability and performance,” a spokesman said. “This is one of many independent third party examples that continue to rank us best. Despite their claims, the competition continues to play catch up.”
Fortune asked the other three carriers for comment and will update this story with any responses.
Looking at data reports by phone, PC Magazine found that the Samsung S8—using Qualcomm’s latest and greatest wireless modem—far outperformed the iPhone 7, which was introduced last year with older modem chips made by Qualcomm, or in some models, Intel. Further hampering the iPhone, Apple didn’t want its phones with last year’s Qualcomm chips to outpace models with Intel’s even less capable modems. So Apple purposely limited the performance of the Qualcomm models, a point Qualcomm brought up in lawsuits between the companies this year over royalties.
Bottom line? The Galaxy S8 had considerably higher performance on all networks except Sprint (S) in average download and upload speeds.
Apple (AAPL) and Samsung are on different upgrade cycles, however. While Samsung issued new phones in April, Apple isn’t expected to update last year’s models until September. The new iPhones could catch up by including the newer Qualcomm (QCOM) modem chips.