T-Mobile boasts the widest "5G availability," Verizon brags with the fastest 5G, all the while AT&T keeps reaping median download speed awards, what gives? If you are confused about the state of US carriers' 5G networks, you are not alone.
Coverage, in particular, is a bit trickier due to misleading claims, but its winner is still relatively easy to determine as T-Mobile. By virtue of using the slow but farther-reaching low 5G bands, T-Mobile can brag with blanketing "6,000 cities and towns covering 225 million people across over one million square miles" with 5G connectivity. At the end of June, AT&T said its 5G service was live in 335 markets, covering multiple cities within those, and reaching 179 million people.
In contrast, Verizon recently got into hot water over "nationwide" 5G coverage ad claims, as its ultrafast mmWave network needs base stations every 1000 feet or so, and is only available in streets and blocks of certain cities. Still, that doesn't prevent T-Mobile from advertising its 5G coverage as more than AT&T and Verizon "combined," even though it measures every small town and village it blankets, and not whole metro areas as AT&T, so population coverage is the more reliable metric in the end.
In any case, the FCC now wants carriers to stop with the computer models of their 5G coverage, roll up their sleeves, and do actual on-the-ground testing, similar to what companies like Rootmetrics do:
Needless to say, both AT&T and T-Mobile are not impressed (Verizon is conspicuously absent from the objection letters sent to the FCC), reports CNET, and claim that such tests would be prohibitively expensive to carry out.
So, driving around to prove coverage will be too expensive, according to carriers, while third companies do it anyway, and sell the data to the highest business analytical bidder. We'll see if the FCC prevails, but Congressional leaders from both parties are pushing it to clean up its maps, especially in rural areas that get government subsidies, so the carriers might have to fire up their engines in the end.