OpenSignal Cellular Metrics Highlight The Change In The US Market
At the end of 2016, America’s third largest carrier, T-Mobile, dropped tiered data from its portfolio of postpay plans. Customers simply had data on their plan with an unmetered allowance. This meant an end of trying to decide how much data you needed and then looking up this amount with the carrier’s plans to pick the best option. Some critics complained that T-Mobile’s plan slowed customer data allowances down after a certain amount had been used, but T-Mobile did not charge customers more for going over their allowance, or stop the data.
We’ve seen T-Mobile introduce other ideas, too, such as unlimited music and video streaming from select providers, and by including taxes and charges in the headline price. In other words, if you take out a T-Mobile ONE plan at a quoted $80 a month, that’s what you pay: $80 a month. Compare and contrast with the two larger American carriers, AT&T and Verizon, where their tiered data plans penalised customers for going over the allowance, and the monthly headline rate excluded charges such as access costs and taxes. Like or dislike T-Mobile, making the sticker price on a plan the price that customers pay is a very good thing.
America’s two larger carriers, AT&T and Verizon, had been telling the market how customers didn’t really need an unlimited plan, and didn’t use enough data to justify one. It’s been a similar situation in the United Kingdom, where most carriers tell customers that they don’t need an unlimited plan, so they’re not going to offer one. It’s a bizarre situation where if the carrier truly believed customers didn’t need an unlimited data plan, they would have no problem offering one: after all, nobody needs this much data, right? Back in February 2017, AT&T and Verizon started offering their own unlimited data plans to compete with both Sprint and T-Mobile. For the last six months all four big American carriers have been offering an unlimited data plans. This seems like a win-win situation for all customers, right? Not quite!
British-based cellular data analysts, OpenSignal, release a six monthly report detailing how the American networks are performing based on real world information derived from users of the OpenSignal app on either an Apple iPhone or Android device. The app measures how well the cellular data network is working for that particular device wherever it is. The August 2017 report is based on over five million results across all devices, markets, and conditions. OpenSignal collate 3G and 4G LTE data showing the latency, availability, and transfer speeds. The analysts then compare the data with previous reports. In August 2017, OpenSignal note the difference in the market. To cut to the chase: AT&T and Verizon’s networks are slower and less responsive than they were in the previous report, but Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks were quicker than before. T-Mobile tops out as the fastest network, offering an average 16.07 Mbps download speed, followed by Verizon with 13.34 Mbps. AT&T is in third place with 11.05 Mbps and Sprint is last at 8.17 Mbps.
The reason why AT&T and Verizon’s networks are slowing down is almost certainly because of higher demand placed on the infrastructure. Customers of these networks are using more data, and the carrier’s bandwidth is shared out to all customers at that moment. The more customers using a given network, the slower things get. For T-Mobile, the company has been aggressively adding customers and has increased overall network speeds.
What good is a fast network if it doesn’t provide you with coverage? One of OpenSignal’s metrics is LTE availability, where T-Mobile scored very highly. They were the best in the test, showing that for more than 90% of the time, T-Mobile customers could access their LTE network. This is good news for customers as LTE is faster than 3G networks, and it’s good news for the carrier as LTE is far more efficient at spectrum use. Verizon managed almost 89% of overall LTE coverage. You should still check your area for coverage but it seems that over the country, T-Mobile’s LTE network availability has now overtaken Verizon.
It seems T-Mobile is both having its cake and eating it too, at least from the overall statistics. It’s showing better LTE availability and higher network speeds, despite gaining significant numbers of customers over the report period. T-Mobile is going from strength to strength and is reaping the rewards of building out a high performance network designed with unlimited data in mind. However, in America’s cities, T-Mobile is going toe-to-toe with Verizon in offering the best coverage. T-Mobile has the advantage in OpenSignal’s national statistics but in the cities, it’s something of a two-horse race between T-Mobile and Verizon.
Where now for the industry? Until this year, AT&T and Verizon could argue that although their networks were slower, they had better coverage. This is now in doubt. They may need to change their business models and place more of an emphasis on customers rather than shareholders. Meanwhile, if T-Mobile continues to grow and add subscribers, it’s network speeds may eventually plateau or start to decline as the demand for data meets the available bandwidth. The next few years are going to be especially interesting.