Despite claims by the four biggest U.S. wireless carriers that each one has the best nationwide network, the latest performance data gathered by testing firm RootMetrics shows that are all good and getting better.
"This a great time for consumers. Network providers are really trying hard so that consumers ultimately benefit. You're not going to go wrong with any one of them," said Julie Dey, vice president of RootMetrics, in an interview.
The competition between all four has been tight for years, but came into special focus in the last two months as Verizon, then T-Mobile and Sprint started running separate national ads that show tiny colorful balls running down a track with a narrator asserting each carrier's network superiority.
In the latest comprehensive national RootMetrics testing -- for the second half of 2015 -- released on Wednesday, Verizon dominated by finishing first in all six performance categories, tying with AT&T only for texting performance. The six categories were overall performance, network reliability, network speed, data performance, call performance and text performance.
Even though Verizon did well on each major national category, the overall performance rating it achieved -- 94.5 out of 100 -- wasn't too far out of line with the other three carriers. AT&T finished second at 91.3; Sprint finished third at 86 and T-Mobile finished fourth at 80.9.
"Our results show that the race is pretty tight overall," Dey added. "It doesn't mean second, third and fourth place are bad."
By comparison, there is a "lot more competition at the metro level," where RootMetrics tested all four networks in 125 major metropolitan areas, Dey said. Verizon won 597 first-place finishes in those areas over the various performance tests, followed by AT&T (424), Sprint (212) and T-Mobile (209).
In those metro areas, Verizon won the most total awards, but Sprint was strong on call performance and T-Mobile was strong on network speed and reliability. "AT&T has been a strong number 2 for a long time and is holding that position," Dey said.
RootMetrics has posted a complete rundown of all 125 markets for its testing in the second half of 2015. In one example, the Washington metro area, all four carriers were neck-and-neck in overall performance with Verizon finishing on top (97.4), followed closely by T-Mobile (96.3), then Sprint (95.3) and AT&T (95).
As with the national results, AT&T won on text performance in Washington, but T-Mobile won on network speed and data performance. Sprint tied for first with Verizon on both call performance and network reliability.
RootMetrics performed 3.8 million tests in the second half of 2015 to reach its findings, simultaneously testing actual phones on all four carriers. The tests were conducted inside more than 6,000 buildings as well as outside of buildings and on streets, including inside moving vehicles that were driven nearly 240,000 miles, including in rural areas. A video atop the RootMetrics home page shows how testers work.
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