The U.S. wireless carriers are battling for your business, and each of the four major players -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless -- want you to believe that they're the best. Of course, they can't all come out on top.
Sorting out the claims and counterclaims, and wading through the oceans of hype is tough. With a bit of help, a savvy consumer can compare prices, but it isn't so easy to determine how the different carriers perform in different parts of the country.
Fortunately, a company called RootMetrics, which measures the performance of mobile networks, conducted a nationwide survey that included 5.6 million real-world tests of wireless connectivity in 125 metro areas. The testers looked at five different categories (reliability, speed, data, call performance, and text performance) and then crunched the numbers to derive a weighted, composite score. Reliability, a key metric, refers to the overall performance of the networks, and it factors accessibility, dropped calls and more.
The overall winner: Verizon, which came out on top in four of the five components of the overall score. AT&T edged out Verizon in text performance. The loser: Sprint, which was on the bottom of three categories: speed, data, and call performance.
"Verizon's high-ranging RootScores mean you are likely to get consistently good performance across the cities we tested. Verizon was particularly strong in the call category, scoring a perfect 100.0 in 16 cities. Verizon's lowest call score, 94.4 in Reno, was still strong."
T-Mobile, whose in-your-face CEO brags that his company has the fastest network by far, wasn't nearly as fast as Verizon or AT&T in the network speed tests. It finished third in this category, more than 11 points behind Verizon and more than 6 points behind AT&T. Slowpoke Sprint was more than 20 points behind Verizon. (RootMetrics says that a spread of two points or more is enough for the average consumer to notice.)
You can see the detailed results on the RootMetrics site, which offers a tool to let you compare each carrier's performance in your city. If you're considering a switch to a new carrier, network results in your area are much more important than overall results.
The charts below include RootMetrics' overall scores for quality and network speed in the seven largest cities in the country.
Which carriers perform best?