P3 dives into network speed comparisons

Verizon users are able to achieve the fastest average and top network speeds most often, according to analysis by benchmarking company P3 — but Sprint had a strong showing in average experienced network speeds.

P3 took a detailed look at customers’ experiences of network speeds on the four national carriers’ networks, drawing on its device-based app for data. P3 says its app, which is integrated with more than 800 Android apps and works in the background to collect data, is installed on nearly 2.2 million devices in the U.S. The company analyzed almost 473,000 speed samples out of 41.3 billion total samples taken between May through July 2018.

“We look at the actual speed of data transmissions while consumers use their favorite apps and services. This is significantly different to so-called legacy or traditional speed tests. Those tests are usually based on artificially initiated data transfers – thus, they less represent real life conditions,” P3 said in explaining its approach. It added, “In real life, users face quite a few limitations that typically make their achieved speed by far lower than the top throughput the network can provide.” Those can include which handset a user has, as well as speed limitations based on rate plan.

P3 analyzed both a set of the fastest samples in a given area — the “top speeds observed at the fastest locations by the fastest users within an urban area” — and the average experienced speeds. Each metropolitan statistical area was segmented into a 1.5-square-mile grid, P3 said.

Users on Verizon’s network were able to achieve the fastest top speeds, P3 said. The average top speed experienced by the fastest users on Verizon’s network was about 69 Mbps, outperforming the other three networks in 294 metropolitan areas. However, T-Mobile US led in 47 MSAs, with a particularly strong showing around its Bellevue, Washington hometown and in Florida. AT&T in 31; and Sprint was the outright winner for top speeds in only one metro area, with a top speed level of about 38 Mbps, P3 said. The testing company noted that Verizon and A&T provided the most consistency in network speeds across markets, while there was more variation in the performance of Sprint and T-Mobile US’ networks from one MSA to another.

When it comes to average experienced speeds, P3 said that “the speed achieved from a user’s perspective typically amount about one tenth of the Network Top Speed.” So while some users on Verizon’s network could get 69 Mbps, the average user speed was 5.3 Mbps — still the fastest among the four national carriers, but only slightly. Sprint, which typically lags in network speed testing, was on Verizon’s heels at 5.2 Mbps.

“This is remarkable since Sprint’s Network Top Speed was only a little more than half of what the Verizon network showed,” P3 said. “Obviously, consumers on Sprint face less limitations in their real life smartphone usage than users in the other networks.”

The average user speed for a T-Mobile US user was 4.6 Mbps, and 4.3 Mbps for AT&T.

“Even though the user speed values show Verizon and Sprint head-to-head, Verizon users still have a more consistent speed experience, both regarding peak-to-average and regarding the different Metropolitan Statistical Areas,” P3 said, adding an additional caveat that “Without understating Sprint’s pursuit, it is worth mentioning that the benchmark shown here is based on the
common footprint of all four networks, i.e. on the area within the MSAs where consumers from all four carriers have transferred data with their smartphone. Potential differences in network area coverage are deliberately ignored to show a like-for-like comparison focusing on speed only.”

The full P3 report is available here (pdf).

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