Verizon maintains top wireless network ranking

For the ninth time in a row, Verizon has come out on top in RootMetrics' semiannual test of the major wireless carriers in the US.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
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Verizon holds its lead over competitors in the latest rankings from RootMetrics.

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Verizon has still got it. For the ninth time in a row, the nation's largest wireless network has taken the top spot in overall network performance, according to independent testing firm RootMetrics.

In its latest test of the four major wireless carriers, RootMetrics rated Verizon tops in all six categories for the second half of 2017. When it came to overall performance in reliability, speed, data connections and calling, Verizon ranked No. 1. It tied for first place with AT&T and Sprint in text messaging.

AT&T ranked second overall, while Sprint took third place and T-Mobile ranked fourth.

Verizon swept the awards not only at the national level, but also at the state and metro levels. In 125 of the largest US cities, it took almost twice the number of first-place awards as AT&T, which finished second. T-Mobile ranked third in terms of performance at the metro level and Sprint ranked fourth.

Verizon's strong performance comes a year after the company introduced its unlimited data plan. Continued network investment in adding more cell sites and using advanced features in LTE have helped the company keep up with growing demand on the network, said Mike Haberman, network vice president at Verizon.

"Clearly our network has held up with the increased demand since reintroducing unlimited data," he said. "And we're not just treading water. We've increased our lead over our competitors."

Verizon's not the only carrier that has made improvements. All four of the major US carriers have invested in their 4G LTE networks by adding cell sites and combining spectrum bands. They've also deployed new gear to get ready for the next generation of wireless, known as 5G.


Verizon scored the best overall in RootMetrics testing for the second half of 2017. AT&T had the second highest score; Sprint came in third and T-Mobile ranked fourth overall. 


The investments have paid off as all four carriers saw improvements in terms of speed and performance, said Doug King, director of business development for RootMetrics.

"Consumers are reaping benefits of these continuous network improvements," he said.

King added that the intense competition among the carriers is what's driving the investment.

"If you didn't have the competition, there would be a lot less incentive to spend the billions of dollars they're spending on the new tech and spectrum," he said. 

Sprint, which last year saw merger talks with T-Mobile fall apart, has been struggling to compete against rivals. But the RootMetrics report indicates that the company is still seeing improvement on its network.

"Despite being outspent by the competition in 2017, Sprint continued to improve its network and maintain its overall national rankings in the second half of the year," the company said in a statement.

T-Mobile brushed off the RootMetrics results and touted its testing results from companies such as Ookla and OpenSignal. It claims their results prove it has the fastest 4G network in the US.

"Big Red is clearly rattled," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said in a statement, referring to Verizon. "T-Mobile has closed the network gap, and the awards that matter -- those from real customers on all networks -- tell you all you need to know: T-Mobile customers are the most satisfied and are more likely to recommend us."

He added, "Those are the reasons why millions of Verizon customers have flocked to T-Mobile."

AT&T declined to comment on the results. But testing firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) says its recent nationwide testing of video streaming on networks across the continental US, found that AT&T performed better than Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. The firm claims AT&T streamed 98 percent of videos successfully and that less than 1 percent of those videos froze. And it noted that AT&T had higher quality playback than other networks. Meanwhile, GWS's test results showed Verizon completed just less than 98 percent of video streams on its network, but it finished in the middle of the pack in other areas that were tested. 

RootMetrics' testing methodology differs from that of companies like Ookla and OpenSignal, which aggregate data from wireless customers that use these firms' free testing apps. RootMetrics conducts its own testing by driving across the country and simultaneously testing all four networks on commercially available phones . Global Wireless Solutions also conducts its tests by driving around the country and testing the networks.

King acknowledged that every carrier likes to pick the data that shows its network in the best light. And he noted that T-Mobile picked up additional awards in some major US metro areas.

"Where T-Mobile is investing, it's helped them catch up to Verizon," he said. "And occasionally they have faster speeds." 

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Updated 12:30 p.m. PT: This story was updated with test results from Global Wireless Solutions.