It’s been 10 months since Verizon and AT&T flipped the switch to their new C-band 5G spectrum, but it seems both carriers still have work to do if they want to catch up with T-Mobile.
Market analyzes and independent tests have agreed for years that T-Mobile is the fastest and most reliable 5G carrier in the USA. That’s not surprising as it had a massive advantage by holding licenses for the crucial midrange spectrum that offers the best balance of range and speed. While Verizon’s early mmWave high-frequency rollouts allowed it to achieve significantly faster raw speeds, these were limited to about 1% of its subscriber base.
However, when Verizon and AT&T wanted to deploy 5G outside of some major cities, they had to settle for low-band 5G spectrum, which was not only slower but also had to share the airwaves with 4G/LTE frequencies. Meanwhile, T-Mobile had a nice chunk of the mid-band spectrum it acquired from its 2020 merger with Sprint that was free and clear to run its Ultra Capacity network.
T-Mobile still has a commanding lead
When Verizon and AT&T finally got their hands on the all-important C-band spectrum in 2021, many expected we’d soon see a level playing field. In January 2022, Verizon began rolling out its new spectrum nationwide, which could theoretically offer even faster performance than T-Mobile’s legacy mid-range frequencies.
Although C-Band showed impressive speed improvements, T-Mobile maintained its dominant lead. A July report by Ookla showed that T-Mobile’s 5G and 4G/LTE networks were still almost twice as fast as its competitors.
Today, Ookla released its latest third-quarter report, and the results surprise mostly in what they don’t show. Despite new C-band launches from AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile remains the fastest wireless carrier in the US by a wide margin; “Verizon Wireless and AT&T were distant runners-up,” the report said.
In particular, T-Mobile showed an average download speed of 116.14 Mbit/s. That’s nearly double Verizon’s 58.64 Mbps and AT&T’s 57.94 Mbps.
Those speeds remain largely unchanged from Ookla’s July report, in which T-Mobile hit 116.54 Mbps, while Verizon and AT&T hit 59.67 Mbps and 54.64 Mbps, respectively.
Similarly, T-Mobile maintained its lead in top average upload speeds at 10.91 Mbps versus Verizon’s 8.3 Mbps and AT&T’s 7.55 Mbps. These values also matched the figures for the second quarter of 2022, which were 11.72 Mbit/s, 9.14 Mbit/s and 7.00 Mbit/s, respectively.
Looking only at performance across carriers’ 5G networks, the numbers were also largely flat from July. T-Mobile still has a healthy lead, with median 5G download speeds of 193.06 Mbps, a slight increase from the previous 187.33 Mbps, but still at the same level. Likewise, Verizon hit 119.80 Mbps versus 113.52 Mbps in July, and AT&T jumped from 71.54 Mbps to 81.22 Mbps.
How does C-Band fit in?
The new C-band spectrum only applies to 5G performance and is evident in the improvements we’ve seen from Verizon and AT&T over the last year.
For example, when Verizon flipped the key on its C-band spectrum on Jan. 19, it saw a staggering 52% jump in performance from 5G nationwide practically overnight. AT&T’s numbers weren’t quite as dramatic, as it limited C-band rollouts to just a handful of cities.
It’s not surprising, however, that as C-band deployments have stabilized, mean download speeds across the country have also stabilized. Just as T-Mobile’s performance gains have slowed over the past year, Verizon’s have stagnated as it expands C-band coverage at a more gradual pace.
It’s fair to say that we won’t see massive improvements in 5G performance from either T-Mobile or Verizon. On the other hand, AT&T still has plenty of room to grow as it’s nowhere near the launch of 5G in the mid-range segment.
While Verizon has gotten its feet on the new C-band spectrum, AT&T has taken a more conservative approach. The original part of the C-band spectrum has proved extremely controversial; Aviation industry opposition forced Verizon to make concessions, including operating lower-powered towers and establishing no-go zones around airports to avoid potential interference with aircraft instruments.
That’s probably why AT&T decided not to bet too heavily on the first batch of spectrum licenses. Instead, it’s starting to provide a new portion of the C-band spectrum that operates at slightly lower frequencies, which won’t draw the wrath of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As a result, we’ll likely see AT&T’s numbers move closer to Verizon’s over the course of 2023.
The numbers by state
While the overall numbers are impressive, it’s important to remember that these are average speeds across the country. That means T-Mobile is the fastest carrier overall, but might not be the fastest carrier where you live.
Thankfully, Ookla also breaks down performance numbers by individual states, and there are a few places where T-Mobile doesn’t lead and a few where it’s often too close to call.
For example, while T-Mobile was the fastest carrier in 45 states in July, that number drops to 44 states in the latest report — Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota all tied this time.
AT&T maintained its lead in Vermont with median download speeds of 42.27 Mbps and advanced in Montana, where there was no clear winner in the July report. AT&T’s score for the quarter was 61.64 Mbps, well above the overall median of 39.38 Mbps across all carriers. Regional network operators FirstNet and GCI took first place in West Virginia and Alaska.
New Jersey jumped to first place this quarter as the fastest US state, with median download speeds of 81.47 Mbps across all carriers and 104.82 Mbps on T-Mobile. However, for T-Mobile customers, the fastest speeds were found in Ohio and Kansas, with median download speeds of 145.21 Mbps and 145.04 Mbps, respectively.
The fastest smartphones
Ookla also broke the fastest smartphones, and the results in this area were more surprising. While Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra took the top spot in July with average downloads of 105.26 Mbps, it fell to third place this month, overshadowed by the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, which averaged 147.42 Mbps and 142.57 Mbps achieved.
Notably, Samsung’s speed hasn’t dropped significantly; The two iPhone 14 Pro models were even faster despite containing essentially the same Snapdragon X65 modem as the Samsung S22 Ultra.
However, it should also be borne in mind that Ookla’s report is primarily based on metrics recorded with its speedtest apps, and these numbers can be skewed by device popularity and customer expectations. For example, the iPhone 14 Pro is the newcomer to the market and users are more likely to check their 5G performance on a new phone than on a model they have been using for a few months.