Out of the four major U.S. carriers, Verizon and Sprint were the only two to deliver a ‘good’ nationwide mobile video experience in a new report from Opensignal, with the former also scoring top marks for 4G availability and coverage.
Mobile gaming experience between mid-March and mid-June, meanwhile, was just average across the carriers, including T-Mobile and AT&T. However, there were major speed increases for AT&T (download) and T-Mobile (upload) since Opensignal’s January report.
The Mobile Network Experience Report results are based on nearly 16 billion measurements taken across 2.4 million devices, and incorporate 5G users as well as those using devices with older technologies.
“With video being the single largest category of traffic carried on mobile networks and consumption expected to grow to keep pace with consumer demand, this is an extremely relevant metric,” the testing company states in its methodology section.
To that point, video is expected to account for a whopping 76% of mobile traffic by 2025 (up from 63% in 2019), according to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report. Mobile video traffic is forecast to grow around 30% annually during that time, gobbling up 164EB per month by 2025.
Verizon scored the highest for video experience with 57.3 points (out of 100), followed by Sprint at 55.4. The Sprint brand is set to retire next month as the carrier is absorbed into T-Mobile following their merger in April. While legacy Sprint 5G sites have been deactivated, the wireless network integration is likely to take several years.
An operator must score between 55 and 65 points to fall within Opensignal’s ‘good’ category for mobile video. According to the testing company, this means users still get a less consistent experience (even from the same video service) than a ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ rank, especially for higher resolution videos. Stalling is still common in the category and there are noticeably slower load times.
Still, it’s superior to the ‘fair’ category, which according to Opensignal doesn’t provide a good experience either for higher resolution videos with “very slow loading times and prolonged stalling” or for certain streaming services. Lower resolution videos from some providers “might be sufficient though.” T-Mobile was shy of the 55-point ‘good’ threshold, coming in third with a score of 54.6. Like T-Mobile, AT&T only delivered a ‘fair’ video experience with a score of 51.3.
In a May report, Opensignal found video experience in the U.S. lagged compared to other countries, scoring 56 points and ranking 73rd. Fifteen of the countries analyzed had an ‘excellent’ video experience.
In a new category, gaming experience – T-Mobile placed first but like Verizon and AT&T, still landed in the ‘fair’ category, meaning most of the time games were responsive and users felt they had control. The ranking measured latency, jitter and packet loss and tested real-time multiplayer games like Fortnite and Minecraft.
AT&T leads on downloads, Verizon or T-Mobile win the rest
AT&T trailed either Verizon or T-Mobile in six out of the seven categories in the report, but topped the closely watched download speed metric with significant gains since January.
AT&T’s overall download speed experience jumped from 27.5 Mbps to 32.6 Mbps. That compares to rivals T-Mobile (28.2 Mbps) and Verizon (27.4 Mbps), followed by Sprint (25.4 Mbps).
As Opensignal noted, AT&T’s upgraded its LTE network with technologies like 4x4 MIMO, 256-QAM, and carrier aggregation, and added capacity with additional AWS and WCS spectrum.
In addition to video, Verizon won in two other key categories – 4G availability and 4G coverage experience. 4G users spent 97.4% of time connected to LTE on Verizon’s network, though all four carriers scored high, particularly T-Mobile (97.0%), followed by AT&T (94.9%), and Sprint (94.6).
Recent tests from Ookla also showed Verizon as the 4G LTE availability leader, but fell behind AT&T and T-Mobile for LTE and 5G-capable speed scores. Note that Ookla and Opensignal use different methodologies and the Ookla results were based on users with modern chipsets and located in competitive geographies.
For Opensignal’s 4G coverage experience (scored 0-10), a metric based on coverage in locations “of higher relative importance” based on the population that spends time there, Verizon was nearly perfect at 9.8. AT&T wasn’t too far behind at 9.5, with T-Mobile scoring 8.8 and Sprint 8.4.
T-Mobile claimed the title for fastest average upload speed with a score of 10.5 Mbps. The carrier far outpaced third-place AT&T (5.8 Mbps) and fourth-place Sprint (3 Mbps), and was 2.9 Mbps faster than second-speediest Verizon (7.6 Mbps).
Earlier this year, T-Mobile got access to additional 600 MHz spectrum in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Opensignal found the added spectrum had doubled T-Mobile’s capacity and 4G LTE speeds in major markets.
T-Mobile also had the highest marks for Voice App Experience, just surpassing the 80-point ‘good’ threshold, which the report said means users were satisfied with their over-the-top voice app experience albeit with minor quality issues.