T-Mobile loves to boast about how its network is the fastest LTE network around. This claim is based on averaging out actual user-observed download speeds. And there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, average download speeds shows us a much more accurate view of what to expect from a carrier when we sign up to one of their plans. But how about maximum observed speeds?
In partnership with RootMetrics, Fierce Wireless published a report which shows how each of the major U.S. carriers come when maximum observed download speeds are compared. As explained in the report:
Maximum actual speeds for downlink and uplink performance show the limits of the network. They demonstrate the engineering that carriers have engaged in to really let customers put the pedal to the metal. Such maximum speeds are also highly dependent on how much spectrum carriers are devoting to LTE and can provide a window into how carriers are using their spectrum resources. They are also dependent on a host of factors including congestion on the network, the user’s proximity to the cell site, and other elements.
When compared over 8 regions, T-Mobile came second to Verizon. Maximum observed download speeds were taken across the 8 regions, and then averaged across all 8. When compared this way, the average top speed seen by T-Mobile users in real life was 42.63Mbps, some way behind Verizon’s 57.21Mbps and slightly ahead of AT&T’s 42.39Mbps. Sprint was nowhere to be seen, with an average high of 22.23Mbps.
As mentioned, there are many ways to read this. Perhaps what’s clearest is what we already know. There are a number of markets nationwide where T-Mobile doesn’t have its wideband LTE market active. Top speeds in those areas will certainly bring the average down. In some areas, T-Mobile’s absolute high has reached way above 140Mbps. And we’re often sent LTE speed tests showing results between 60-75Mbps.
In all honesty, I don’t see anywhere near as much value in maximum observed speed comparisons as I do in the total average speeds. It doesn’t give a clear picture of what you’ll get when you sign up. Rather, it shows what the network is capable of. And it’s no surprise that Verizon’s average was higher than anyone else’s. While T-Mobile’s wideband LTE is in 25 markets, Verizon says it has 400 of its 500 LTE markets covered by its AWS LTE, giving 20+20MHz capacity in a number of them.
And year, in many of RootMetrics network reports, Verizon’s average download speeds are lower than T-Mobile’s, and that’s almost certainly down to the extra congestion. After all, it has more than double the number of subscribers T-Mobile has.
In short, the report is interesting and you should read it, but you’re better off basing your purchasing decisions on actual average speeds and real-life use rather than network potential.