As we approach the end of the first quarter of 2020, all of the major U.S. carriers are operating consumer 5G networks, but between their separate city maps and varied approaches to using low, mid, and high band spectrum, they’re delivering very different end user experiences. Those differences are laid bare today by RootMetrics, which has tracked network performance since before the transition from 4G to 5G, and presents a “mixed bag” of results: Verizon 5G users continue to see the fastest average and peak download speeds, but with very low availability, while T-Mobile and AT&T are delivering 5G at 4G-like speeds that are less likely to impress consumers.
According to the company’s tests in five U.S. cities — Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. — there was no comparison between Verizon’s 5G speeds and any of its rivals, if it’s offering service in a given city. In Los Angeles, it delivered median 5G downloads of 247Mbps with a peak of 627Mbps, while both numbers were even higher in Chicago and Washington. By comparison, T-Mobile’s L.A. numbers were 21.5Mbps and 125.7Mbps, while AT&T’s were 36Mbps and 126Mbps, equal to or lower than their 4G LTE numbers in the same cities.
Credit Verizon’s high band, short distance millimeter wave spectrum for those numbers, and blame its rivals’ use of too little low band spectrum for their weaker 5G speeds. Though RootMetrics noted that T-Mobile was able to offer “5G” in all five cities with up to 57.1% 5G availability in any given city, its peak download speeds were slower than 4G in four of the five cities, and only barely faster in the fifth, with similarly mediocre median speeds. AT&T only had 5G in two cities, but its 4G service was faster than 5G in both of them.
Fourth-place U.S. carrier Sprint had a great showing, however, setting the stage for a stronger T-Mobile 5G presence after the companies complete their merger. Sprint’s mid band 5G was available in four of the five cities, and it was at least a little faster in each city than its 4G. In Los Angeles, Sprint delivered median and maximum 5G speeds of 80.5Mbps and 201.1Mbps respectively, better than both T-Mobile and AT&T. Moreover, its peak speeds were pretty consistent from city to city, and its 5G availability was between 15.5% to 45.7% across the cities.
It’s worth noting that because the top three carriers’ 5G networks remain “in the early days,” both in flux and on the grow, RootMetrics characterizes all of the carriers’ results as “encouraging,” despite their ups and downs. Since the tests were conducted in late 2019 — ahead of recent additions of multiple 5G cities by Verizon and AT&T, as well as last week’s opening of AT&T’s millimeter wave 5G+ network to consumers with the release of Samsung’s Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra 5G models — both speeds and coverage are already improving, and will only get better as the year progresses.