Report: AT&T wins LTE speed race, MetroPCS stumbles

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AT&T (NYSE:T) can claim the U.S. LTE speed title with its customers enjoying average download speeds of 13 Mbps, far outpacing data speeds experienced by customers of its leading LTE rivals. Regional operator MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), on the other hand, limped along in last place with LTE download speeds of 1.2 Mbps, according to an industry vendor.

The LTE speeds results were gathered by OpenSignal via its mobile application, which has been downloaded globally 3 million times and delivers crowd-sourced usage data. "It's real world, measured customer experience data," said Brendan Gill, OpenSignal CEO.

OpenSignal's data was gathered over the whole of 2012 and into early 2013. "One reason we wanted to use a broad time spread was that we don't want speeds to be inflated for newly launched networks that don't have that many customers using the capacity at inception," Gill told FierceBroadbandWireless.

In its report, OpenSignal stressed that its methodology is affected considerably by device variance. "This goes some way towards explaining why MetroPCS registers such slow LTE speeds, its users are generally on lower spec devices," said the firm.

Nonetheless, OpenSignal said its data shows MetroPCS is the slowest LTE network on high-end devices as well. "This is likely explained by the fact that Metro PCS is using a 5 MHz channel while most U.S. carriers are using 20 MHz channels that have the ability to deliver much higher speeds," said the company.

OpenSignal measured Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) average LTE download speeds at 10 Mbps while Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) LTE network came in at 7.7 Mbps. Sprint is launching LTE in the 1900 MHz G Block, where it holds a 5x5 MHz block of spectrum. Verizon and AT&T both are launching LTE in 700 MHz spectrum with mostly 10x10 MHz blocks.

The two top U.S. operators routinely trade places in mobile broadband speed tests. Last year, PCWorld said its tests showed AT&T had the fastest 4G download speeds of any carrier at 9.12 Mbps. In September 2012, wireless testing company RootMetrics reported Verizon's data network (combined LTE and CDMA EV-DO) was the fastest with average supported downlink speeds of 13 Mbps and uplink speeds of 7 Mbps.

OpenSignal said the average LTE download speed in the United States was 9.6 Mbps while globally it was 10.4 Mbps. Sweden has the fastest LTE average speed, averaging 22.1 Mbps, while Japan, surprisingly, turned in the slowest at 7.1 Mbps. Sweden's results were boosted by the 24.4 Mbps speeds delivered by S Comviq, which outpaced Telia's 16.6 Mbps. Japan's results were dragged down by NTT DoCoMo's dismal 5.5 Mbps speed rating. Softbank delivered 16.2 Mbps, while KDDI came in at 14.8 Mbps, according to OpenSignal.

On a country-by-country basis, OpenSignal found that the nations with the fastest average speeds tend to be ones where the population is heavily concentrated in a small number of urban centers. "Countries with a population that is more evenly spread seem to perform slightly worse, perhaps due to the difficulty of rolling-out LTE over a larger geographic area," said the vendor.

OpenSignal said recorded LTE speeds were three times faster than HSPA+ speeds as well as Wi-Fi. "When comparing the speed of LTE to Wi-Fi it is important to remember that the 3.2Mbps figure is a global average and therefore contains within it a vast spread of infrastructures and technologies. That is not to say that LTE is faster than Wi-Fi, but this chart does point towards exciting possibilities for countries that are bypassing fixed-line internet service provision," said the company.

LTE also beat out HSPA+ and Wi-Fi in terms of latency. "With faster pings, LTE offers vastly improved performance for VOIP services like Skype," said OpenSignal.

In another LTE study released this week, Juniper Research reported global LTE revenues are expected to reach $340 billion by 2017, compared to just over $75 billion this year. "This figure will represent approximately 31% of total service revenues from all mobile services of all generations (2G/3G/4G) at that time and reflects the continued success of LTE in serving higher value subscribers," said Juniper.

Through 2017, almost 70 percent of LTE revenues (almost 70%) will continue to be generated by North American and Far Eastern and China markets, added the research firm.

For more:
-- see this Open Signal blog entry and this report (PDF)
- see this Juniper Research release

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