MVNO speeds are 23% worse than those from host operator, report says

Tutela found that Verizon provided the most reliable wireless services. (Tutela)

A new report from network testing firm Tutela found that the average download speeds provided by the nation’s MVNOs—providers like Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile or Consumer Cellular—are 23% slower than what’s available from that MVNO’s “host” network, like Verizon or AT&T.

While not necessarily surprising—network operators like AT&T and Verizon often reserve their most advanced services and functions for their own branded network offerings—the results nonetheless underscore the difference between MVNOs and the network providers that actually own and operate wireless networks.

“Our tests show that Comcast’s Xfinity, which operates on Verizon’s network, provides roughly half the average data speeds in urban areas where Tutela conducted tests—12.6 Mbps in comparison to 24 Mbps,” the network management firm wrote in its newest report, which is available in full at the bottom of this article. “The consistent quality score showed a 33.8 point disparity in Verizon’s favor.”

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MVNOs like Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile essentially piggyback on “host” wireless network operators—in Comcast’s case, Verizon owns and operates the network that Xfinity Mobile uses. Like most MVNOs, Xfinity Mobile handles phone sales, customer care and billing, and notes only that its offering runs on “America’s largest and most reliable 4G LTE network.”

Indeed, most wireless network operators don’t publicly discuss their MVNO partners, and most MVNOs don’t disclose the identity of their host network. But Tutela’s new report shows that MVNOs may not offer exactly the same services as their hosts. Further, the firm noted that wireless network operators differ significantly in their approach to MVNO partners.

For example, AT&T’s MVNOs offer speeds roughly half of what AT&T itself provides. “Consumer Cellular, Cricket and H2O all have download speeds that are around half what AT&T offers in the urban locations where Tutela tested both,” the firm noted. “However, H2O and Consumer Cellular both managed to achieve significantly higher consistent quality scores than AT&T. 72.8% and 71.5% respectively, compared to around 67% from AT&T. While we can’t draw any absolute conclusions, one possible reason for this is superior core network elements (e.g. gateways and routers) on the part of those two MVNOs. Cricket, meanwhile, came in far lower with 40.8% compared to AT&T’s 65.7%.”

Other operators, though, offered speeds roughly similar to their MVNOs.

“In our tests, Tutela found that the MVNO download performances of Consumer Cellular, LycaMobile, MetroPCS and Ultra Mobile were remarkably similar to T-Mobile,” the firm noted. “However, MetroPCS’ website states that its customers’ data is 'prioritized below data of some T-Mobile-branded customers at times and locations where competing network demands occur.' Tutela’s data reveals that at busier times MetroPCS customer experience lags further behind T-Mobile than at quiet times.”

To be clear, MetroPCS is now called Metro by T-Mobile and isn’t a traditional MVNO because T-Mobile owns the company. The same is true for AT&T’s Cricket and Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Consumer Cellular, Xfinity Mobile and Ultra Mobile are all considered “standard” MVNOs because they are separate companies that offer services through an agreement with a host network operator.

As part of its network testing, Tutela also provided network rankings for the nation’s wireless network operators: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. The firm found that Verizon nabbed top honors for consistent service quality. “In 78.1% of tests in urban areas, the operator met or exceeded our network performance standards,” the firm wrote in its report.

Tutela said it obtained its measurement results via software installed on more than 3,000 partner apps across 250 million Android and iPhone devices globally, collecting over 10 billion mobile data measurements every day. The firm’s data spans Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2018, and includes information from 240 billion measurements, including 5.9 million download tests.