T-Mobile swinging for the fences, winning the battle of 5G superlatives — Moore

Trackman used to call balls and strikes in baseball
Since T-Mobile is a sponsor of MLB, let’s just say that the carrier is swinging for the fences. (Getty Images)
Jeff Moore Industry Voices

We have a winner in the battle of competing 5G claims. It’s T-Mobile.  And T-Mobile wants you to know this.  The underpinnings for such claims have changed greatly since last fall.  And as of 2021, Verizon and AT&T seem not to have a good answer for T-Mobile’s claims that it has the “largest and fastest 5G network,” and now “most reliable” 5G network.

T-Mobile has for some time claimed to have the “largest and fastest 5G network.”  Largest is an easy one.  T-Mobile claimed during Q1 2021 earnings that its 5G network covers 295 million people. The carrier stated that it is “offering roughly 33% more geographic coverage than the so-called nationwide 5G of AT&T and Verizon combined.” 

“T-Mobile takes the 5G Download Speed award for the first time,” Opensignal reported in January, with average 5G download speeds of 58.1 Mbps, slightly ahead of AT&T at 53.8 Mbps. Verizon was in last place at 47.4 Mbps. As of January, T-Mobile could use the Opensignal results to claim to have the “largest and fastest 5G network.”

Then came the Umlaut award. “T-Mobile has the most reliable 5G network” in the U.S., Umlaut announced on April 6. Verizon was a distant second in the study, with AT&T in last place. Twelve days later, T-Mobile launched this TV ad, “The Free 5G Upgrade.”  For the first time, T-Mobile was using a TV ad to claim that it has the largest, fastest, and most reliable 5G network.

T-Mobile is not subtle about this  

T-Mobile ad

There was heavy spending for this ad. Also on April 18, T-Mobile launched a 60-second radio variant making the “most reliable” claim in addition to the claims of having the largest and fastest 5G network. The radio ad has aired more than 25,000 times – at a time while Verizon and AT&T are doing very little on radio to make network claims.  

T-Mobile has also used PR to play up the new Umlaut award, beginning with this April 6 press release. During the carrier’s earnings call in April, CEO Mike Sievert stated that “Umlaut recognized T-Mobile's 5G as the most reliable and the most available.”  

What about AT&T?

“AT&T has the fastest nationwide 5G network for Q3 2020,” the carrier announced in October. The claim was based on results released in October by Ookla Speedtest. Soon, the claim of “fastest nationwide 5G network” was featured in advertising and in store signage.

That claim is no longer seen in ads or in store signage. AT&T is not making 5G superlative claims. As seen here, AT&T is simply stating that its 5G is fast, reliable and secure.

To be clear, AT&T was claiming the fastest nationwide network, not the fastest 5G speeds. That title was being claimed by Verizon.

What about Verizon?

Verizon has had one 5G superlative claim of having “the fastest 5G in the world.”  This claim is based on a global study of 5G speeds by Opensignal that was released in May 2020, as noted in this Verizon press release from October. In fact, Verizon got some good news in April, when the National Advertising Division of BBB National Programs upheld the claim.

However, the claim always struck me as hollow. It is based on Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G network, which covers less than 1% of the U.S. population.

This is not a central claim by Verizon, in any case. Verizon on May 12 launched this “5G Built Right: Network Mission” TV ad, which touts “5G built right” and states that Verizon has “America’s most reliable network.”

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For Verizon, the rise of 5G is a branding event, with an intent of using the rise of 5G to enhance its network reputation. It is almost as if Verizon is saying that whether it is 5G or 4G, Verizon has the most reliable network. “Verizon has been named the most awarded wireless company for network quality by J.D. Power 26 consecutive times,” Verizon announced in January. Verizon also took top honors in a RootMetrics study, as announced in January. “This is the 15th testing period in a row Verizon has been recognized as best overall network by RootMetrics, dating back to 2013,” the carrier stated.

So, Verizon wins the reliability awards, while T-Mobile wins the award for most reliable 5G. The Umlaut award hits home for Verizon, because network reliability is its central point of differentiation. 5G is an increasing part of the mix, so this must be a worrisome trend.

Not all about superlatives

This winter, T-Mobile – while claiming 5G leadership and the largest 5G network – focused the lion’s share of its network image efforts on Ultra Capacity 5G, which is a name for lighting up the dragon’s hoard of 5G spectrum that it gained via its acquisition of Sprint. The breadth of spectrum has allowed T-Mobile to claim that it was essentially turning cities into Wi-Fi hotspots. The carrier is planning to cover 200 million people with this mid-band spectrum by the end of 2021. Advertising to build awareness of this was heavy during the winter. 

These points are not lost on Verizon and AT&T. Spending on the C-band auction was surprisingly heavy.  However, T-Mobile is well into its nationwide mid-band buildout and in any case, the carrier’s 2.5 GHz spectrum is much lower than the C-band spectrum being acquired, so catching up on 5G will require a grand slam or two.

T-Mobile presses its advantage

T-Mobile has been having some fun at Verizon’s expense. The carrier since April has been airing this “See for Yourself: Concession Stand” TV ad, which shows Verizon’s 5G coverage as being greatly inferior to that of T-Mobile. In the ad, a woman asks, “Made your choice?”  A similar ad, involving maps on elevator doors, has also been airing. The campaign is reminiscent of Verizon’s “Map for That” ads in 2009, in which AT&T was depicted graphically as having interior 3G coverage, as detailed by NBC News in November 2009. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say. 

What does this mean?

I think T-Mobile is pressing its 5G advantage in an effort to gain a reputation for the best network overall, at some point. Since T-Mobile is a sponsor of MLB, let’s just say that the carrier is swinging for the fences.

Jeff Moore is Principal of Wave7 Research, a wireless research firm that covers U.S. postpaid, prepaid, and smartphone competition.  Jeff has 25 years of telecom industry experience, including 13 years of competitive intelligence work for Sprint. Follow him on Twitter @wave7jeff.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.