Verizon Wireless beat out the other three national carriers for overall network performance, reliability and speed in the first half of 2014, according to an analysis by RootMetrics released today.
AT&T was not far behind Verizon in the RootMetrics "State of the Mobile Union" testing that involved using phones from carriers in 5.6 million test samples from cities, small towns, airports and rural areas, as well as 6,400 indoor locations.
In July, Verizon also came out on top in network performance in a RootMetrics report that looked at 125 cities and 50 airports. That data is folded into the latest more comprehensive report.
That earlier study covered about 60% of the U.S. population, while the latest report includes that earlier data as well as more rural areas, medium and small towns and freeways to attempt to show network performance for the other 40% of the population, RootMetrics CEO Bill Moore said in an interview.
When compared to the last set of tests in the second half of 2013, RootMetrics found that "every carrier is getting better, which is all good news for consumers," Moore said.
In the latest study, T-Mobile showed a solid focus on network performance in urban areas in the first half of 2014, while both T-Mobile and Sprint "have started to close the gap," between themselves and Verizon and AT&T, RootMetrics reported. Both T-Mobile and Sprint typically require customers to roam more often onto other networks in rural areas of the U.S., while remaining strongest in metro areas.
Root Metrics' data can show wireless users who travel frequently how network performance will be in different areas. Users can also see how a carrier performs near home or work in a single location. "Mobile coverage is localized, and even in your own city, yours and my experience are going to be different," Moore said.
For overall performance, Root Metrics said Verizon got a score of 81.6 out of 100, while AT&T scored 79.5. T-Mobile scored 71.5 and Sprint had 69.6.
Other categories that were judged include network reliability, speed, data performance, call performance and text performance. Verizon finished on top in all those categories, except for text performance, which went to AT&T, then Verizon in second. Sprint finished last in all the categories except for text performance and reliability, where Sprint beat T-Mobile.
Moore said of all the categories, reliability is the most important. "If you can't get on, it doesn't matter what speed you have," he noted.
Reliability is judged by the ability to make a voice connection and hold it for two minutes, he said, while data connection testing requires keeping the connection for downloading 10 emails and staying connected to Web sites for downloads during typical use scenarios.
In the last half of 2013, AT&T beat Verizon on network speed tests, but Verizon pulled away in early 2014, probably due to Verizon's rollout of AWS spectrum in what Verizon calls XLTE, Moore said.
While Moore wouldn't call T-Mobile the most improved network from late 2013 to early 2014, T-Mobile did clearly improve. T-Mobile finished last in five of six categories in the second half of 2013 (but beat Sprint in speed), but jumped to third position ahead of Sprint in four categories in the first half of 2014.
RootMetrics said consumers can check their network reliability and performance with the RootMetrics CoverageMap mobile app available for free in Google Play and the Apple App Store. http://www.rootmetrics.com/us/products/coveragemap-mobile-app