In the first Verizon vs T-Mobile vs AT&T 5G and LTE speeds test for 2020, Ma Bell keeps it up

AT&T shines in early 2020 testing, with improved speeds in 51 of 55 cities tested
AT&T is continuing its network advancements in early 2020 as well, it seems, after grabbing the speed crown last year. After PCMag's report last summer found AT&T to offer the fastest 4G LTE network in terms of average speeds for the first time since 2013, followed by Verizon and T-Mobile, now the latest RootMetrics report on median speeds found that AT&T kept improving into the new year as well.

Typically, the RootMetrics team tours the country with its measuring gear biannually, but due to the coronavirus restrictions, they are just outing what they have glimpsed so far for the first trimester in 55 markets.

AT&T vs Verizon vs T-Mobile vs Sprint network speeds

Last year, AT&T managed to surpass T-Mobile in median download speeds across the 125 markets tested, and it all culminated with AT&T taking the crown for fastest median download speed measured in Baltimore (66.6 Mbps) for the first time.

Fastest median download speeds in the US 2014-2020

In the first quarter of this year, AT&T's ascent has continued, at least in the 55 markets that RootMetrics has tested so far. Despite that its first 5G network attempts are built on the slower low-band 850Hz spectrum, and the carrier only recently began to deploy the fast-paced mmWave standard, it managed to hit 94.5 Mbps median download speeds in Philadelphia. 

Its 4G LTE network is fastest there as well, at 79.2 Mbps median speed (RootMetrics takes the median, as the average is influenced by extreme outlier results). Overall, across the same 55 markets, AT&T managed to score improvement in 51 of them, making it the fastest learner, thanks to wider use of carrier aggregation:

  • AT&T has been investing heavily over the past 18 months to bolster its already robust 4G LTE network, and the good news is that AT&T subscribers are experiencing much faster speeds in many cities as a result. Even better news is that those speeds should only get better over time as the carrier’s already impressive 5G service continues to expand and mature.

  • Broad use of 5CA and 4x4 MIMO lead to much faster speeds. Among the 55 cities tested so far in 2020, AT&T’s speeds improved in a whopping 51 of those markets, which was more than any other carrier (Sprint wasn’t far behind, with improvements in 47 markets). Even more impressive is that AT&T’s median download speeds jumped by at least 15 Mbps in 22 of those cities.

  • AT&T’s speed interval results highlight speed gains. Looking at AT&T’s speeds across various thresholds shows that impressive improvement from AT&T, with speeds of 50 Mbps or faster in 20 more markets in 1H 2020 compared to 2H 2019. The carrier also showed strong improvement at the lower end, with speeds below 20 Mbps in only two cities (the same number as Verizon). For perspective, Sprint registered speeds below 20 Mbps in 12 markets in 1H 2020 and T-Mobile did so in 27 of 55 cities.

If you want to see the exact speeds in your markets, here's the scoop, with the clarification that speeds at 40 Mbps and above are considered ideal for everything you throw at the networks, including buffer-free HD video streaming, and even the lowest, 27.9 Mbps speeds in Modesto, CA, won't buffer video, albeit of the standard definition variety.

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