AT&T tops Ookla’s speed scores in Q3, Sprint surprises in second

Sprint’s speed score improved the most from Ookla's Q1-Q2 2019 report. (Getty Images)

AT&T again snagged top billing for fastest wireless network based on Speedtest data from Ookla, the wireless carrier touted this week, marking the third consecutive quarter it achieved that rank.

Interestingly, Sprint, the nation’s fourth-largest carrier, came in second with the next highest speed score behind AT&T and ahead of both T-Mobile and Verizon.

Here are Ookla’s Speed Scores in Competitive Geographies in the U.S. for Q3:

AT&T: 35.17
Sprint: 31.84
T-Mobile: 31.36
Verizon: 29.42

Ookla previously determined AT&T was the fastest mobile operator in the Q1-Q2 period in its 2019 U.S. Mobile Performance Report, based on speed scores in locations designated by the testing company as ‘Competitive Geographies.’  

RELATED: AT&T wins on speed, Verizon on consistency in Q1-Q2 2019, says Ookla

Ookla, which relies on data from user-initiated testing, has not released further analysis of its third-quarter data, but Adriane Blum, head of communications at Ookla, noted that the exact same methodology was used to calculate Q3 speed scores.

To calculate speed scores, Ookla uses a weighted average that combines low, median, and highest speeds, with the most emphasis placed on median speeds. Both download and upload speeds are involved, and 90% of Ookla’s final speed score is attributed on download speed, with the remaining 10% attributed to upload.

Sprint’s speed score improved the most from the Q1-Q2 report, when the carrier’s network ranked slowest with a score of 28.15. Though Sprint notably showed the second largest improvement year over year (36.8%) in Ookla’s earlier report.

In its earlier report, Ookla said that dedicating more PCS spectrum to LTE and the addition of higher order modulation on both downlink and uplink had improved Sprint’s speeds over the past year. While Sprint rolls out its 5G network using 2.5 GHz spectrum, Ookla noted the carrier's LTE upgrades included installing thousands of Massive MIMO radios on existing sites, which support dual mode 4G/5G and can substantially increase cell site capacity.

AT&T also bumped its score up from 32.91 in the Q1-Q2 results to retain the fastest network in the third quarter.

RELATED: Verizon 5G performs over 800% faster than LTE, Speedtest data shows

In a release publicizing the win, AT&T said it’s increased network speeds by 43% year over year, reflecting network investments. Those include 4G LTE-Advanced technologies that have been added while AT&T continues to simultaneously upgrade radio access infrastructure at sites and add additional spectrum as build out its FirstNet public safety network.   

AT&T somewhat controversially dubbed its upgraded network service ‘5G Evolution,’ but third-party tests show work has resulted in noticeably faster speeds.  According to AT&T, the carrier’s upgraded network is delivering 2-times faster average download speeds than its standard 4G LTE network.

In Ookla’s third-quarter speed scores, T-Mobile fell to third slightly behind second-place Sprint, but the third-largest carrier’s score did increase slightly from its previous 30.94.

Verizon, meanwhile, dropped to last place, with its Ookla speed score dropping ever so slightly from Q1-Q2 results of 29.45.

RELATED: T-Mobile edges out AT&T in rural 4G availability, Opensignal results show

In ranking network performance, Ookla also looks at consistency of speeds and how much of the time users are connected to LTE, but did not share those metric results for the third quarter. In its Q1-Q2 analysis, Verizon came out on top, ranking first for both consistency (87.3%) and time spent on LTE (95.9%).  

Network rankings vary among different testing companies though, which each have their own methodologies, analysis, and ranking systems. In July, for example, Opensignal’s Mobile Network Experience report found T-Mobile had the fastest national 4G LTE download speeds. That same month, Verizon swept RootMetrics’ network awards including the performance, reliability, speed and data categories.

Then last month, Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) ranked AT&T highest for overall national wireless network performance.