City breakdown of the ten largest cities across the US

US Cities Table

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1. New York
2. San Diego
3. San José
4. Phoenix
5. Chicago
6. Dallas
7. Los Angeles
8. Houston
9. Philadelphia
10. San Antonio

Last year, Verizon dominated the awards in our nationwide LTE network performance report, and a similar story has emerged when examining solely the largest cities in the US. Verizon had the best consistent quality in seven out of the 10 cities examined, and Xfinity Mobile, an MVNO running on Verizon’s network, won one of those three remaining cities.

When looking at average download speeds, the gap between Verizon and the competition is particularly notable. It’s not just that Verizon had the fastest download speeds in nine out of 10 cities, it’s that the distance between first and second place -- such as 30 Mbps to AT&T’s 14.7 Mbps in NYC -- that stands out.

The difference between the average download speed and consistent quality results in some cities also tells a tale. In every city examined, AT&T finished either first or second for average download speed, but it was regularly beaten on consistent quality by T-Mobile. A closer examination of the download speed test numbers shows a major spike in AT&T speed tests around or below 3 Mbps.

This is likely due to some of AT&T’s older unlimited plans, which cap speeds at 3 Mbps, and its current plans which employ data prioritization policies to manage congestion. Throttled or deprioritized connections do not meet Tutela’s excellent consistent quality thresholds, which explains the drop in consistent quality in some instances.

The strong performances by some MVNOs also highlights how traffic shaping and prioritization, rather than just network quality, have started to impact subscribers’ experience. Xfinity Mobile runs on Verizon’s network, and in San José, provided a better consistent quality than that experienced by Verizon’s own users. Once again, that’s likely attributable to the different data plans and prioritization options employed by the networks.

Google Fi also put in a strong showing, taking first place in Tutela’s consistent quality benchmarking in both Houston and Philadelphia. Google Fi uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and, in some cases, US Cellular as its host network, and enables devices to switch between the networks depending on which signal is best. The fact that Google Fi users experience greater network quality than users on T-Mobile or Sprint in some areas suggests good things about what T-Mobile and Sprint customers can expect if and when the merger of those two networks takes place.

Other MVNOs consistently appear in the middle of the rankings -- offering average download speeds in the 10-15 Mbps range, and an excellent consistent quality score in the region of 60-70%. These mid-range placements, like the AT&T example, are likely because of plan throttling or data deprioritization on these carriers -- for example, on some unlimited plans plans, Republic reduces data speeds for users if monthly cellular data usage exceeds 5GB more than once in any six month period.

Finally, it’s impossible to look at the overall results without noticing that Cricket consistently finishes near the bottom of the pack for excellent consistent quality. Again, data throttling is the culprit: one of Cricket’s most popular plans is four lines of unlimited data for $100, throttled to speeds of 3 Mbps. On that plan, every network test will fail Tutela’s consistent quality benchmark, and the result is a lower excellent consistent quality score for Cricket overall. However, we note that Cricket’s results for basic consistent quality -- which is easily met, even on the throttled plans -- is virtually identical to host network AT&T across the board -- a trend we see repeated across many MVNOs with similar plans in our testing.