FCC report says T-Mobile, other carriers overstated their coverage maps

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A new FCC report says that T-Mobile and other U.S. carriers misrepresented their rural coverage.

The FCC conducted drive tests of T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular’s networks and found that they only achieved the minimum download speeds predicted by those carriers’ coverage maps 62.3% of the time. T-Mobile specifically achieved that speed in 63.2% of tests, Verizon in 64.3% of tests, and U.S. Cellular just 45.0% of tests.

According to the report, FCC staff was unable to get any 4G LTE signal from T-Mobile for 21.3% of the drive tests, despite T-Mobile reporting that it had coverage in the area. The FCC couldn’t find a Verizon LTE signal in 16.2% of its drive tests, while the U.S. Cellular network failed to produce an LTE signal in 38% of the FCC’s drive tests.

Stationary tests weren’t much better. FCC staff found that each carrier achieved sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in just 20 of 42 locations.

In its testing, FCC staff measured network performance in 12 states across six drive test routes. They conducted 24,649 tests and drove nearly 10,000 miles. The FCC staffers also conducted 5,916 stationary speed tests at 42 locations in nine states.

The test came about because the carriers submitted coverage maps so that the FCC could determine areas eligible for support in the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) auction, but some parties raised concerns that the maps may not be accurate. Based on those complaints and its own review, FCC staff were concerned that coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile may have been overstated.

“Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances,” the FCC explains.

It can be frustrating when a carrier’s coverage map says that you’ll have service in a particular area but then you find that it’s not there. The FCC is especially concerned with this matter because it relies on carrier coverage maps to help it determine where its funding should go to help improve things in areas that need that support.

“Overstating mobile broadband coverage misleads the public and can misallocate our limited universal service funds, and this it must be met with meaningful consequences,” the FCC report says. The agency goes on to make some recommendations about what should be done to remedy this issue, saying things like carriers should be required to submit on-the-ground evidence of network performance that validate the propagation model used to generate coverage maps.

I’ve contacted T-Mobile for a comment on this FCC report but haven’t yet heard back. I’ll update this post if a statement is issued. In the mean time, you can check out the full report for yourself.

 

UPDATE: T-Mobile gave me the following statement regarding the FCC’s report:

“We stand behind our network coverage and all of our maps, but agree with the FCC that there is an opportunity to improve their procedures for collection of broadband coverage data for the Mobility Fund maps. We look forward to working with them and Congress to revamp the process.”

 

Via: Mike Dano (Twitter)
Source: FCC

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  • weidnerj

    This sounds about right for Tmobile. They have on their map coverage a local road that says has coverage in reality they don’t, and when I asked them about it, they say yeah we know we don’t have coverage (the antenna points towards the wrong direction) – and no plans on fixing it either. If I would have known I would stayed with Sprint where they have coverage on this road.

    • riverhorse

      I thought Sprint would trot out their free year promo this holiday season.
      FYI Visible (Verizon) has $40 unlimited and unthrottled everything, with free phone.

    • Sprint is tmobile now. Waiting on lawsuits to end and sprint name will be gone for good

  • I kind of understand since I worked for a WISP. Basically they use software that they put in the height and location of a tower and it draws a circle around the tower where it should have a signal. It’s not perfect by any means and more than a few times I went to someone’s place to install only to figure out it just wasn’t feasible to do. I no longer have t-mobile service but using FI I still use the towers and they are the only ones who show where people have actually used the service and those results.

    All of the carriers will be similar in how the maps are over stated since the software takes some generic information and just plugs it in. Each antenna made has it’s own little differences and nuances that cause one location to be better than another. They probably should figure about 10% smaller on each bubble they draw to be closer in line with the actual coverage but the bean counters really don’t want to go in and do that because a 10% reduction looks like a whole lot and if only one carrier does it the others will hound them saying their network sucks but won’t actually do anything to make their own better.

  • Mike

    Curious about ATT or Sprint. Were similar tests performed?

    • David Haas

      To my understanding MF-II was related to rural coverage and also help provide funding to establish rural Fixed Wireless Broadband solutions using LTE. We know T-Mobile was trying to get into rural FWB and that needs LTE to be usable, Verizon already had FWB and works with LTEiRA partners to expand the effects in rural areas, and USCC was doing similar in its areas. I doubt Sprint even tried to get funding since they would actually have to get into rural areas (ha!).
      AT&T may not have either applied for funding or just waited it out.

      ADDENDUM: Just looked at the FCC report document regarding this. The investigations were results from ‘challengers’ claims, so the FCC decide to test themselves. Among the challenged claims, PTCI (in the Oklahoma Panhandle) was one that challenged Verizon and T-Mobile’s claims, Smith Bagley in Arizona challenged Verizon’s claims, and Vermont’s DPS challenged all three’s claims. Apparently several of the challenges were made with Rural Wireless Asssociation guidance, so it seemed like small carrier group calling foul on big carriers. AT&T later updated their submitted maps and it looks like FCC accepted those changes. Sprint was tested by challengers but seems like they weren’t that much of a concern.

      FCC is changing the funding to be a reverse auction, rather than just coverage-based need, so let’s see how this changes things.

  • Neil MacDonald

    I have had T-Mobile for years and love it and it covers almost all the area that I need when I need it. That said it shows on their maps where their data coverage is and there is absolutely no coverage there at all and I’m not talking about any specific area but rather large areas. it’s to bad that they can’t be totally accurate about it. If they can’t then why bother with the coverage maps.

    • marque2

      There are definitely spots on major freeways I have driven that show LTE coverage where I get absolutely zero signal.

      Definitely room for improvement but overall the company is better than 4-5 years ago.

      • riverhorse

        Agreed. In my metropolitan area, on a device supporting all the bands, I’m over 100/50 up/down, 9-20 latency.
        Road/rail travel between spread out cities in many states is another story though. Signal disappears right outside city limits, cities that swell with workers/tourists can slow down to dialup speeds during office hours / seasonal tourism.
        I’ve held on to one unlimited grandfathered promo from each of the Big 3, but even this doesn’t cover everything.

  • Sayahh

    Oh my God! You mean companies can’t be trusted to tell the truth or police themselves? And there also happens to be money on the line? I am shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

    • (J²)

      Right! I feel like we should contact the appropriate government body to deal with such matters!

  • riverhorse

    Yawn. Every single cellular and satellite provider suffers this. Call me in a couple of years when everyone’s high and low orbiting satellites and balloons are up.
    I’ll be running my far flung empire from a Wyoming forest lake cabin.

  • James Symmonds

    I can tell you that they very much shouldn’t be standing by their maps. The coverage is getting better but there’s still a lot spots I’ve driven through this past year that don’t have the coverage they say is there. As in, it’s still got some blank spots where they’re shading it.

    • Acdc1a

      They claim to have coverage in Flamingo, FL and they didn’t as of May. I’m guessing it hasn’t changed.

  • Reinaldo Reyes

    My signal is very bad….I have to go outside house wait 2 min…and get signal

    • riverhorse

      And the phone convos are delayed thusly- so you’re replying to what the other person uttered two minutes ago… and likely has already hung up.
      And,cue the Twilight Zone Theme…3,2,1…

  • Phil7474

    I drove across Texas and where tmobile says the have solid coverage there’s none. No bars, no 2g,3g or any G. They’re coverage maps are a joke.

    • If u have a old phone and it not low band capable u are in the twilight zone. Band 12 travels very far sometimes u have to switch to band 12 strictly if you know how to do tha like I do

  • mikeZo6

    Great Job FCC in busting bogus coverage maps ! Make carries report accurate Maps !
    coverage maps have been BS for far too long. FCC put an end to this !

  • JJ

    Well duh. This has been a big issue for all the carriers. Only solution for me was to actually try them out and using the mvno for trial and error is the best way. All i can say is that switching to tmobile over 5 years ago was a rough start but it’s the only company that improves data speed and coverage year over year and beats my wife’s verizon phone almost every time.

    • Acdc1a

      Imagine making the switch in 2012…couldn’t even get HSPA at my house at the time.

      • riverhorse

        Imagine subscribing to T-Zones way back before smartphones, before even the internet took off.

      • I made the switch in 2008.

  • Adam

    I think if T-Mobile had a map mode where only the hexagons are pink, customer’s would be happy.

    • Andrew Singleton

      that would severely understate the coverage though

  • Sharti24

    Sprint offers the best coverage map. You can zoom in on the green and approximate where the towers are located

  • Frank D

    In other news: sky, blue; water, wet.

  • Eric A

    If only that T-Mobile coverage map in the header were true…

  • Daniel Holmstock

    VoLTE is just as impossible for me now driving along the DC area. When the phone switches to 4G its almost impossible to make a call. Where i always had decent service on route 29 from i66 has so many dead spots now along the route that I would think i live in the most remote parts of a jungle. I used many phones since i have JOD and its consistent among these phones, using the iphone 11 now. and UGH.

    • Yup I too live in the DMV and T-Mobile’s coverage has been extremely lacking especially inside buildings/malls such as Tyson’s, Pentagon City, Reston Town Center, etc….I’ve been hounding them for months with no solution in sight but hey at least they have 5G up and running :/

      • Maybe its your phone. If it’s not 1yr or newer ot cant take advantage of tmobile low bands

      • Daniel Holmstock

        exactly, and the fact 2 bars of signal to make you think you have some, and make a call and hear dead silence for 5 minutes before the phone reports CALL FAIL. Really whats odd is that it USE to work in these areas.

  • jimmiekain

    You cant trust the carrier maps. Thats old news. I only trust user aggregated maps like root metrics. It lets you see exactly what speeds and type of connection real people are getting.

  • superg05

    fcc speedtest app if your area sucks download it and test in your area so fcc has the data to force your carrier to make improvements especially since they currently need regulatory approval now might be your only chance