Verizon again tops RootMetrics’ latest ranking

Verizon sign from MWCA
Verizon swept mobile performance awards at the national level, including five outright wins, according to RootMetrics, which is a unit of IHS Markits. (Image: FierceWireless)

Verizon is holding onto its title of having the best network in the U.S. after a RootMetrics report ranked its network as No. 1 for a record ninth time in a row, coming in first across five of the six categories tested. Categories include speed, reliability, data, call and text and overall scores.

Verizon’s standing is significant given the barrage of criticism coming mostly from T-Mobile’s corner about how Verizon’s network has deteriorated due to its introduction of “unlimited” data last year. RootMetrics’ drive testing took place after unlimited was launched, so any discussion about whether unlimited is hurting its network is off base, according to said Mike Haberman, VP of network support at Verizon.

“Certainly this shows that absolutely the results are still overwhelmingly in our favor,” he said. “That’s just a fact.”

The data is from the second half of 2017. RootMetrics said its scouters drove 246,190 miles and conducted more than 4.6 million tests; all tests were conducted using unmodified, off-the-shelf phones purchased from carrier stores. 

There was a three-way tie between Verizon, AT&T and Sprint in the text performance category, and RootMetrics said AT&T remains a strong competitor for top mobile performance, earning second place in the five remaining mobile performance categories.

RELATED: T-Mobile: Verizon, AT&T networks 'have caved' due to unlimited plans

Of course, a lot of different analysts are measuring operators’ networks in the U.S., and every operator seems to find something to fall in their favor. But Verizon says drive testing offers a consistent, apples-to- apples testing environment that best mimics the customer’s actual experience on the networks.

RELATED: Verizon not showing signs of worry that T-Mobile is catching up to it on LTE coverage

Verizon for a long time has prided itself for its network prowess; major rival AT&T couldn’t make the same claims after the introduction of the first iPhone revealed dire shortcomings. But Haberman said it’s not something Verizon takes for granted.

“It is due to Verizon continuing to invest strongly in the network consistently,” as well as deploying the latest technologies, including 4X4 MIMO and 256 QAM—technologies, it should be noted, that T-Mobile also touts. Haberman said Verizon has been densifying its network the last four or five years on a big scale, and it’s got deals with dark fiber providers that are paying benefits on the backhaul side of things.

RELATED: Verizon again claims top honors in RootMetrics study

“You’re going to see continued improvement,” including with LAA deployed strategically, as well as Verizon building out on more of its spectrum. Verizon already has some LAA out there and it will add it to locations that make sense.  “It’s going to be driven by demand,” he said, adding: “We’re not all about speed. We’re about reliability. But when it comes to speed… it’s consistent speed.”

About 70% of Verizon’s usage now is video, and it’s banking that its network will provide the best streaming experience without a lot of buffering. That’s an area where “we have a tremendous lead on the competitors,” he said.

Battle of the analytics

RootMetric’s report comes as T-Mobile boasts that it provided the fastest speeds at the Super Bowl, citing Speedtest data from Ookla, and last month, T-Mobile pointed to data released by OpenSignal that named T-Mobile as the winner in five categories measuring the state of mobile networks. OpenSignal measures mobile data speed, latency and availability, and T-Mobile asserts that the data shows its network is neck-and-neck with Verizon—and any differences that do exist will all but disappear as the “un-carrier” continues its expansion into rural America.

“Big Red is clearly rattled, but buying awards won’t bring back their glory days,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said in a statement today. “T-Mobile has closed the network gap, and the awards that matter – those from real customers on all networks – tell you all you need to know: T-Mobile customers are the most satisfied and are more likely to recommend us. They get an LTE signal more reliably and have the fastest LTE. Those are the reasons why millions of Verizon customers have flocked to T-Mobile.”

Sprint released a statement saying that despite being outspent by the competition in 2017, it continued to improve its network and maintain its overall national rankings in the second half of the year.

“Other benchmarks also validate Sprint’s improvement. According to Ookla Speedtest Intelligence, Sprint’s average download speed jumped 60% Dec 2016 to Dec 2017, making Sprint the most improved operator in 2017,” the carrier said.

This year Sprint kicks off its Next-Gen Network build with its largest network investment in many years. “We have an aggressive plan to improve coverage, reliability and speed, giving customers a superior network experience in markets all across the country,” Sprint said. “In addition, we're making great progress working with Qualcomm Technologies, device manufacturers, and our RAN suppliers to launch the first truly mobile 5G network in the U.S. in the first half of 2019.”