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With US operators on more equal footing, customer experience is the differentator, Tutela says

4G is still the dominant force determining users’ network experience, and the quality of that experience is a crucial element of operators’ ability to attract and retain customers. Despite the hype around 5G, operators are steadily making robust improvements to their 4G networks, according to new analysis by Tutela.

“With the nationwide carrier landscape shifted much more towards three operators relatively equal in scale, the importance of customers’ quality of experience as a differentiating factor between operators will only increase,” according to Tutela’s new report on the State of the Mobile Experience for the U.S. It found that user devices across the national networks are on 4G more than 94% of the time, with Verizon’s user base on 4G the highest percentage of the time 97.6%.

“Given the limited availability of 5G coverage, and overall scarcity of 5G devices among the installed base, it’s not yet driving significant change in average mobile experience,” Tutela concluded.

The crowd-sourced data analysis company looked at more than 54 billion records from smartphone users, including more than 185 million speed and latency tests taken between March 1 and August 31 of this year.

Overall, the competition between AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile is “tighter than ever,” Tutela said. While it concluded that Verizon is still the network to beat, Tutela made it clear that Verizon isn’t safe from its competitors.

As T-Mobile US integrates the Sprint network and take advantage of its spectrum holdings, Tutela said, “there is a realistic possibility that it will be able to challenge Verizon’s speed crown. Additionally, the improvement in coverage from the New T-Mobile network (as well as 600 MHz deployment) shows that T-Mobile has addressed a significant historical weakness when it comes to coverage.”

Meanwhile, AT&T was recognized for Tutela as providing the best “core consistent quality” at a national level and is “dominant as the provider of a core mobile experience” at the state level. While Verizon still beats AT&T on coverage, the benchmarking company added, AT&T’s nationwide push to deploy more spectrum, including its FirstNet holdings at 700 MHz, ” could provide an avenue to challenge Verizon’s dominance in that arena, especially in the 5G era.”

Among Tutela’s rankings:

-Verizon was the outright winner in the categories of download throughput and coverage, and tied with T-Mobile US for “excellent consistent quality.” That is Tutela’s measure for a network connection good enough for demanding use-cases like mobile gaming and high-quality video streaming, and both Verizon and T-Mobile US tied at 83.4%. AT&T was only slightly behind at 82.0%.

-T-Mobile US won the category of upload throughput outright and had a two other categories, the aforementioned excellent consistent quality with Verizon and a tie for network latency with AT&T.

-AT&T won the “core consistent quality” category and tied for network latency. Core consistent quality is Tutela’s measure for a network connection good enough for less-demanding use cases, like web browsing or streaming SD video. On latency, while AT&T and T-Mobile US won the category, the difference between networks was “minimal,” Tutela noted: Just 2.1 milliseconds separated first-place AT&T and T-Mobile from the former Sprint network, which came in fourth place.

Overall, Verizon and T-Mobile US each had a win or tie in three categories, and AT&T in two.

“Despite the big shake-ups in the US telecom market this year, with the likes of the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile and the continued focus to adopt 5G, the big four operators continue to impress us with their results,” said Tom Luke, VP of sales and Partnerships, adding that there is “strong competition” and “mobile users in the U.S. can still get strong, reliable connections from their chosen operator”.

Read the full report from Tutela here. 

ABOUT AUTHOR

Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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