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Test driving T-Mobile's LTE network, one year later

Derek Walter | Oct. 19, 2015
Last year, we took T-Mobile's Test Drive challenge to scope out its LTE coverage. This year, we tried it again. Here's how its coverage stacks up.

Setting up a new iPhone requires a Wi-Fi or data connection to complete, but right as its final step was about to start, we went through a tunnel. Radio silence. The connection was rather off and on during a lot of the outskirts of Monterey, but did much better later that day when going back downtown.

t mobile test drive box 
The T-Mobile test drive box ships straight to your door. Credit: Derek Walter

My road trip started out in my hometown near Fresno, California. We drove to Carmel-by-the-Sea, meandered around the Monterey Peninsula, headed down to Shell Beach for a day, and then back through the drought-plagued and desolate flatlands home.

Such trips are usually where some people struggle with T-Mobile service, and that was generally my experience. The highways to and from the Central Valley had a lot of dead zones. There was even an entire shopping center in Carmel Valley, just outside the main town, where I had no T-Mobile reception. By, contrast my wife, who also has an iPhone 5s, had a solid AT&T connection.

However, it wasn’t a one-sided situation. 

Very, very good

T-Mobile’s plans and marketing tout the company’s “data strong” network. Rollover data and fairly generous monthly limits are targeted at those, like myself, whose phones suck up large chunks of data.

t mobile speed test apps
When I had a good LTE signal, T-Mobile delivered excellent download speeds.

And that’s where T-Mobile really excels. In test after test, using OpenSignal and Ookla’s Speedtest, T-Mobile outperformed the AT&T model right next to it. I didn’t compile the data into a spreadsheet or come up with some statistical average, but it wasn’t uncommon to get 50Mbps download speeds.  There were even a few spots where the T-Mobile device had the superior signal to the AT&T iPhone.

Wi-Fi calling is another advantage, as you could use that to make up for a home, hotel room, or other spot where you’re without coverage but do have Wi-Fi—however, this won’t solve the issue if you want to start a call and head out to somewhere the signal isn’t great.

Wanted: Low-band spectrum

The most frustrating part of my test was how quickly I could go from full-strength LTE to no service. This happened to me at Monterey’s Del Monte shopping center, where after a couple minutes inside Macy’s I didn’t have a signal.

It was a situation that would repeat itself over and over. What was strong enough for app usage and music streaming in the car would become unusable once I walked inside.

t mobile iphone comparison 
This was typically the situation when traveling the highways outside of populated areas. Credit: Derek Walter

 

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