Rootmetrics: ‘Strong and improving’ —but still inconsistent—5G networks in US cities

There are two pillars that support the 5G user experience: Availability and performance. According to a new report from Rootmetrics, T-Mobile US is leading in 5G availability across US cities, but AT&T’s 5G provides the best performance and AT&T and Verizon both win high marks for 5G reliability.

“While we’ve seen strong and improving 5G availability and speeds from the carriers in many cities, it’s
important to keep in mind that with the major U.S. networks utilizing different types of spectrum for 5G,
the 5G availability and speeds that consumers experience can vary a great deal for different carriers
across or even within different markets,” the benchmarking company concluded.

Rootmetrics tested 5G networks in 45 cities across the U.S. between January and March of this year. It recorded at least some 5G availability from all three carriers in nearly all of them. T-Mobile US was the only carrier with a 5G network presence in all 45 of the cities, AT&T had 5G service in 44 out of the 45, and Rootmetrics saw 5G availability for Verizon in 43 out of the 45 cities.

Digging a little deeper into what “availability” looks like in 5G at this point in deployments, however, shows that there’s still a long way to go in terms of coverage. Rootmetrics said that T-Mobile US showed the highest percentages of 5G availability in the most markets: More than 55% availability in 30 markets, with the lowest tested market being Sarasota, FL, where Rootmetrics’ testing showed T-Mo 5G available for a device to connect to only about 19% of the time. AT&T had 55% or greater availability in 20 markets, with particularly extensive 5G coverage in Dayton, Ohio (nearly 83%). Verizon had substantially more 5G availability than it did during the second half of 2020, but still only achieved 55% or greater availability in three markets — it had between 25-55% availability in 29 markets, however.

Overall, all the carriers improved their networks’ reach and performance in those 45 cities since the previous round of Rootmetrics’ testing the second half of 2020.

Rootmetrics noted that devices can connect to 5G, LTE or experience a “mixed mode” in which the device switches between the two technologies during the same data activity. In order to provide a better direct comparison between networks, it based its report on 5G metrics from tests that were based on 5G-only connections, not mixed-mode ones.

Among the report’s additional findings:

-AT&T “impressed at multiple levels during testing so far” this year, Rootmetrics said, describing the carrier’s network as having “broad 5G availability, strong speeds, and great 5G reliability” in the tested cities. The carrier also had the fastest 5G in the highest number of cities, compared to its competitors.

-T-Mobile US’ 5G speeds “took a huge step forward” in the first half of this year, due to increased use of its midband spectrum holdings — even though they were still relatively slow compared to AT&T and Verizon’s.

-Verizon’s speeds were on-par with those of T-Mobile US, Rootmetrics added, and it has made “incredibly fast progress in improving its 5G availability.”

But with 5G deployments in relatively early days, it’s still anyone’s race.

“The current leaderboard could shift quickly if T-Mobile can continue to show improved speeds along with its already broad availability, or if Verizon can pair its rapid 5G expansion with faster speeds going forward,” the benchmarking company added.

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