T-Mobile dominated the latest 5G report from Opensignal, scoring higher marks than rivals AT&T and Verizon across categories of reach, availability, and upload and download speeds.
While T-Mobile is marching out mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G, AT&T and Verizon are still waiting on the first batch of C-band spectrum to be cleared by satellite operations and ready later this year.
Those mid-band frequencies are expected to play a key role in boosting 5G performance, but for now Opensignal data shows that T-Mobile has kept its grasp as leader of four key categories.
T-Mobile has been vocal about 5G coverage advantage over competitors, which are still relying on lower band spectrum used for 4G LTE for broader coverage or high-capacity millimeter wave that’s fast but very limited in availability.
And for extent of the network, T-Mobile continued to gain ground in Opensignal results both for the proportion of time users have an active 5G connection (5G Availability) and the proportion of locations a user can find a 5G signal (5G Reach). Opensignal collects measurements through software installed on over 100 million devices globally within its own apps and those of partners – with both user-initiated and automated tests conducted between March 16 and June 13, 2021.
T-Mobile says its 5G service using mid-band spectrum and millimeter wave, dubbed “Ultra Capacity 5G,’’ covers 150 million people and is on track to reach 200 million by the end of 2021. It’s 5G using low band 600 MHz (with better range but less capacity) covers 300 million people.
According to Opensignal, the carrier’s nationwide 5G availability increased 3.3%, with T-Mobile users connected to 5G 36.3% of the time. That compares to 22.5% for AT&T (up 2% since April) and 10.5% for Verizon.
AT&T placed second for 5G reach, with the most improvement of the three since April, followed by Verizon in third.
T-Mobile also came out well ahead in regional results, winning all of markets outright for both metrics of reach and time connected to 5G. On a regional basis, Opensignal reported 16.9% for Verizon’s highest 5G availability score, with AT&T users hitting 30% in three states – compared to 40% of time on 5G for T-Mobile in 11 states.
Verizon users, meanwhile, saw decreases (3.1-6.9%) in the amount of time and places connected to 5G, as well as video experience since the last report.
“A mix of factors is likely causing these declines, including more users connecting to 5G, as well as users spending more time outdoors and travelling to more locations during the spring, compared to winter months, where Verizon hasn't rolled out its 5G network yet,” Opensignal concluded in the report.
2.5 GHz boosts T-Mobile speeds
As noted, T-Mobile has been deploying 2.5 GHz spectrum – which offers a mix of capacity and coverage – which has significantly increased average 5G download speeds since January.
The latest report showed a 22.8% jump for T-Mobile, to average 5G downloads of 87.5 Mbps. These speeds are still significantly slower than what T-Mobile promises for its Ultra Capacity 5G (average downloads of 350 Mbps, peak speeds up to 1 Gbps) or compared to 5G in South Korea where operators have very speedy average download results and high availability in key cities (at least 93% in Seoul), according to RootMetrics. And recent testing from Tutela determined 5G from each of the three carriers wasn’t delivering much improvement over users with 4G handsets.
Still, T-Mobile is making strides with an almost 30 Mbps improvement since the start of the year. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, have largely stayed stagnant on 5G download speeds, and both clocked 52.3 Mbps in Opensignal’s new report. That’s a 4.5 Mbps improvement for Verizon users and 2.7 Mbps decrease for AT&T.
T-Mobile also continued to hold the title for 5G upload speeds, which remained the same at 15.1 Mbps and just slightly ahead of second-place Verizon with 14.2 Mbps. AT&T users saw 5G uploads decline slightly to 8.8 Mbps.
AT&T and Verizon appear to be in a bit of a holding pattern as they await C-band spectrum each won at auction earlier this year, although the carriers are gearing up for deployments. Opensignal said it likely won’t be until December “before our users on AT&T and Verizon can see their 5G download Speed take a steady upwards path to follow T-Mobile’s.”
Neville Ray, president of Technology at T-Mobile, touted the Opensignal results.
“Independent network reports continue to show T-Mobile is the best choice for speedy and reliable 5G coverage across the country,” Ray said in a statement. “We built T-Mobile’s 5G network with broad coverage, high capacity and low latency to fuel innovation and bring transformative 5G experiences to customers. This is how you build the best 5G network in the country, and we’re just getting started.”
Notably, while T-Mobile outdid the competition in four key categories, AT&T and Verizon both scored higher marks from Opensignal for 5G experiences including video, games and voice apps.