What you need to know
- AT&T has the best 5G experience according to RootMetrics Everyday 5G experience score.
- T-Mobile has the best availability with at least 25% 5G availability in every market tested.
- Verizon's 5G network has the best reliability for devices getting and staying connected.
RootMetrics has released its 5G report for the first half of 2021, and AT&T is the big winner with the Best Everyday 5G experience. This is a combination of RootMetrics Everyday 5G availability, data speed, and reliability. While AT&T didn't come out on top in every category, it scored well enough in all of them to come out ahead with all things considered.
Regarding availability, T-Mobile won easily with a score of 80 markets compared to AT&T with 44 and Verizon with just nine. T-Mobile had some level of 5G coverage available in all of the 125 tested markets. Notably, T-Mobile had greater than 25% availability in every market tested, and 72 markets showed more than 85% availability. AT&T had 85%+ coverage in only 39 markets, while Verizon only had six. Still, each carrier had significant improvements in availability.
AT&T had the best score for Fastest Everyday 5G download with 20 markets. Verizon came in second with 16 markets, followed by T-Mobile with 13. This is a combination of median download speeds, the 5th percentile, and the 95th percentile. The 5th percentile considers the worst 5 percent of speeds which deeply hurt T-Mobile's result. T-Mobile has 5th percentile results with 105 markets under 5Mbps. This is a slight improvement from 121 in 2020 but still much worse than Verizon's 44 or AT&T's 22.
On the bright side, T-Mobile's 95th percentile, the best five percent of results, was the best by far. T-Mobile had 54 markets with speeds over 250Mbps with 28 markets between 200 and 250Mbps. Verizon only had seven markets over 250Mbps, while AT&T had none. This is likely a result of T-Mobile's Ultra Capacity 5G network making up 21.9% of results which is up from just 3.9% in 2020.
5G on this 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum has given T-Mobile a serious speed advantage as Verizon and AT&T still don't have full access to comparable spectrum. All carriers will likely improve in this category towards the end of the year and into 2022 as C-band becomes available to all carriers, and T-Mobile can expand usage of band n41. Unlike other carriers, T-Mobile includes access to its full network to all customers helping it provide some of the best cell phone plans for 5G.
Verizon scores a victory in reliability with the best results in 99 markets out of 125. AT&T followed with just 59 markets, and T-Mobile trailed behind with 12. This result is a combination of both getting connected and staying connected to 5G. This shows that while T-Mobile and AT&T have greater availability, Verizon can deliver more reliable 5G results in the cities markets it has coverage.
Verizon had a success rate of 99.5% in 110 markets, a huge improvement over the 44 it had in the second half of 2020. AT&T was right behind with 102 markets up from 71, and T-Mobile brought up the rear with 78 markets up from 52. The biggest takeaway is just how much each carrier has progressed. Verizon also stayed connected more often with 99.5% in 104 markets compared to 77 and 50 markets with AT&T and T-Mobile, respectively.
LTE performance is still essential for network performance since many people still don't have a 5G capable phone, and even those that do will still fall back on LTE if 5G signal is weak. AT&T and Verizon led the way with the most markets over 25Mbps. AT&T further extended this lead with 31 markets testing greater than 50Mbps. This is an improvement from the 14 markets in the second half of 2020.
Verizon had 13 markets over 50Mbps, though this is down from 20. T-Mobile improved its speeds with most of its markets over 25Mbps though it only had 11 with speeds over 50Mbps. Nevertheless, this is an improvement from the zero it had in the second half of 2020.
One thing to keep in mind about these results is that RootMetrics focuses its testing on 125 of the most populated metro areas in the U.S. This includes markets from all 50 states but doesn't show the whole 5G picture, especially in small cities or rural areas.
Be sure to check out each carrier's coverage maps for yourself to see if your area is covered before committing to a network.
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When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.