RootMetrics by IHS Markit, the standard for mobile performance benchmarking, today released a new report to help consumers cut through the 5G hype.

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RootMetrics by IHS Markit, the standard for mobile performance benchmarking, today released a new report to help cut through the 5G hype and show consumers what real-world performance looks like in five major cities across the US (Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angles, and Washington, D.C.). As mobile users across the US depend more and more on fast data connectivity, the new RootMetrics report shows that there is no one-size-fits-all 5G solution and that your 5G experience can vary dramatically from carrier to carrier.

  • Not all 5G is created equal: The low-band spectrum 5G networks of AT&T and T-Mobile can deliver broader coverage but don’t have the potential of providing topline speeds as fast as those of Sprint’s mid-band spectrum 5G or, especially, Verizon’s millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G.
  • AT&T’s low-band 5G network showed room for improvement, but the carrier has the spectrum and strong 4G LTE foundation to deliver a strong experience.
  • T-Mobile offered broad 5G coverage, but the carrier’s 5G speeds weren’t much different from its 4G LTE speeds.
  • Sprint’s strong 5G median download speeds and mid-band spectrum could be a boon to T-Mobile if the merger between the companies completes.
  • Verizon’s mmWave takes advantage of spectrum not used for LTE and while coverage is smaller, the carrier’s 5G maximum download speeds were remarkable in Chicago, LA, and Washington, D.C.

The end-user 5G experience depends on spectrum

With consumers bombarded with marketing campaigns touting the benefits of 5G, RootMetrics looked to see just what was different and special about each 5G service. As the RootMetrics report shows, the 5G speeds that consumers experience depends heavily on the type of spectrum the carriers use for deployments. Low-band and mid-band spectrum (also used for LTE networks) deliver signals that can travel greater distances and help with indoor coverage, but speeds aren’t as fast as what will be possible with mmWave spectrum. The opposite is true for mmWave—its spectrum that isn’t currently used for LTE and can deliver much, much faster speeds, but coverage will be smaller. Consider a quick comparison of the 5G max speeds recorded, which help show the potential of a network.

  • Fastest 5G max speed recorded on low-band spectrum (AT&T and T-Mobile): AT&T’s 175.2 Mbps in Indianapolis.
  • Fastest 5G max speed recorded on mid-band spectrum (Sprint): Sprint’s 249.9 Mbps in Chicago.
  • Fastest 5G max speed recorded on mmWave spectrum (Verizon): Verizon’s 845.7 Mbps in Washington, D.C.

Carrier-by-carrier highlights

AT&T’s low-band 5G provides mixed results, but its 4G LTE offers strong service

AT&T’s 5G customers could experience relatively slow speeds on 5G in the early days of deployments and availability was less than 10% in both Indianapolis and Los Angeles. AT&T’s 5G speeds were similar to or slower than its 4G LTE speeds in both cities. However, those 5G speeds and availability rates should only improve over time, especially given the spectrum resources the carrier has.

Sprint’s mid-band 5G provides strong results, especially in Chicago

Sprint provided relatively wide coverage and its 5G median download speeds were faster than those of T-Mobile and similar to or faster than the 5G speeds of AT&T. Sprint clocked its fastest 5G median download speed of 136.7 Mbps in Chicago, which was faster than that of Verizon (106.7 Mbps). At that speed, Sprint users can download a 600MB video from Netflix in less than 36 seconds, a far cry from the 2.4 minutes it would take to download the same video at Sprint’s solid 4G LTE speed of 34.0 Mbps in the same city.

T-Mobile offers broad 5G availability, but its 5G speeds were similar to (or slower than) those of 4G LTE

The good news is that T-Mobile’s 5G coverage was broader than that of the other carriers in most cities and was widespread in general. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s fastest 5G median download speeds didn’t surpass 34.0 Mbps in any city. In fact, T-Mobile’s 5G speeds were slower than its 4G LTE speeds in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. Results suggest that currently, T-Mobile’s 5G isn’t performing much differently from its 4G LTE network, and at times, T-Mobile’s 5G is slower than its 4G LTE.

Verizon users should enjoy much faster speeds on 5G

Verizon’s 5G is currently targeted to certain areas of select cities that require greater capacity, such as busy city centers and other areas of cities where finding good service can be a challenge. In other words, Verizon’s 5G isn’t intended to provide coverage across entire cities. That said, Verizon’s mmWave 5G is fast. Verizon clocked a 5G median download speed of 247.0 Mbps in Los Angeles. While Verizon’s 5G availability wasn’t as widespread as that of the other carriers, its subscribers should still experience fast speeds on Verizon’s impressive 4G LTE network. In fact, Verizon’s 4G LTE actually outperformed the 5G speeds of other carriers at times during testing.

Speed consistency results matter most to the end-user experience

Regardless of network technology, at the end of the day, the consistency of each carrier’s speed results is the most important element of the end-user speed experience. Although carrier commercials are focused on 5G, a strong LTE network continues to be a key component for the end-user’s mobile experience. The new report includes speed interval results for each of the five cities RootMetrics tested that show what speeds a consumer would actually experience regardless of technology type.

Top-end speeds might get the most attention, but a strong LTE backbone helps assure that consumers won’t have to experience slow speeds as often. In Los Angeles, for example, where all four carriers had deployed 5G at the time of testing, results showed that consumers might want to consider not just top-end speeds but also how often speeds might dip lower than expected.

Speed consistency results in Los Angeles (across all technology types)

Carrier

0-10 Mbps

10-20 Mbps

20-50 Mbps

50-100 Mbps

100+ Mbps

AT&T

12.6%

14.2%

36.5%

21.6%

15.1%

Sprint

24.0%

12.6%

22.2%

22.5%

18.7%

T-Mobile

38.7%

18.3%

30.0%

11.3%

1.6%

Verizon

16.0%

13.3%

34.7%

30.1%

5.9%

“A key takeaway from our recent 5G testing is that not all 5G is created equal and that consumers might want to look beyond the 5G label to see what performance is actually being delivered,” said Doug King, Director of Business Development at RootMetrics. “As our latest report shows, low-band 5G is offering greater availability but speeds aren’t that much different or even slower than LTE speeds. Verizon’s mmWave 5G speeds were incredibly fast and take advantage of spectrum not used for LTE, but coverage is more limited. The bottom line is that no matter what the commercials are saying, 5G is a story still developing. We’ll be testing throughout the year to give consumers an accurate look at what real-world 5G experience they can expect.”

How RootMetrics tests 5G

RootMetrics combines scientific data with real-world mobile performance insights to provide consumers with an independent view of each carrier’s real-world 5G performance. The smartphones used for testing were purchased off the shelf from carrier stores, and tests were performed while walking and driving. RootMetrics uses random sampling techniques to ensure results offer a robust characterization of 5G performance.

In Indianapolis and Los Angeles, RootMetrics used a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G to test the 5G networks of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, and a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G was used to test Sprint’s 5G. Testing was performed from December 17 through December 20, 2019.

During testing in Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., RootMetrics used a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G to test Sprint’s 5G network and a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G to test the 5G networks of T-Mobile and Verizon. Testing was conducted from December 9 through December 10, 2019.

About RootMetrics by IHS Markit (www.RootMetrics.com) RootMetrics by IHS Markit provides mobile analytics that measure mobile network performance and offer insights into the consumer mobile experience. RootMetrics provides data on mobile network performance to help the networks improve and give consumers an end-to-end look at mobile performance. To ensure that RootMetrics results reflect real-world mobile usage, testing is conducted based on where, when, and how consumers use their smartphones most often.

About IHS Markit (www.ihsmarkit.com)

IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.

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