This is the best wireless carrier by far, survey finds

September 8, 2020, 4:01 AM UTC

Verizon had the best overall mobile network during the first half of 2020, placing first in six out of seven categories (including one tie), according to a new survey.

AT&T was second overall, followed by T-Mobile, mobile evaluator RootMetrics said on Tuesday.

Verizon came in first for reliability, accessibility, data connections, and calling. As in prior years, Verizon tied for first place with AT&T for texting quality.

But in the all-important test for speediest network, Verizon placed second behind AT&T, with T-Mobile lagging behind.

The rankings come just as the industry is making an expensive transition to 5G technology, which will eventually bring speeds 10 to 100 times as fast as current 4G LTE, and after T-Mobile finally completed its $26 billion merger with Sprint in April. In its latest round of testing, RootMetrics said it used 5G-capable phones and measured the speed and availability of 5G service as part of all of the rankings.

“Keep in mind that there are important availability differences based on spectrum types, and carriers face a sometimes difficult tradeoff between broad geographical coverage and fast speeds,” RootMetrics noted about 5G.

Verizon claims to offer a superfast type of 5G, but only in parts of about three dozen cities, while AT&T and T-Mobile offer a much slower type of 5G in many more cities. That’s similar to what Fortune found in our recent test of 5G networks.

RootMetrics didn’t offer specific statistics for 5G, but it noted that availability reached as high as 63% of tests on T-Mobile’s network in Jackson, Miss., and 50% of AT&T’s network in Columbus, compared with a low of 0.7% on Verizon’s network in Omaha.

As far as average 5G speeds, Verizon in Los Angeles hit 255 megabits per second, about seven times as fast as Verizon’s average combined 5G and 4G speed nationwide of 36 Mbps. At 255 Mbps, a phone user could instantly download an album of songs or grab an entire HD movie in a few minutes.

AT&T’s best 5G hit 116 Mbps in Phoenix, about three times as fast as its overall national average of 42 Mbps. T-Mobile’s top 5G speed, 83 Mbps in Hampton Roads, Va., was four times as fast as its overall average of 20 Mbps.

RootMetrics uses a different methodology than other mobile network testing firms, like Ookla and Opensignal, which rank based on speed tests performed by customers using free apps on their phones. AT&T topped Ookla’s most recent download speed ranking, followed by T-Mobile, with Verizon lagging.

RootMetrics, a unit of IHS Markit, conducts its tests with professionals driving around the country. But in the first half of 2020 it had to cut back the amount of testing owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. To compile the latest rankings, its surveyors conducted 2.7 million tests, drove almost 203,000 miles, and also checked more than 3,000 indoor locations. That was down from 3.9 million tests, driving 225,000 miles, and checking 8,000 indoor locations for its report covering the second half of 2019.

RootMetrics also ranked the carriers in seven categories in each of 55 major metropolitan areas, down from its usual 125 areas. Verizon placed first in the most local categories, at 329, followed by AT&T with 193, T-Mobile with 78, and Sprint with 70.

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