March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Verizon Wireless ranked highest among its peers in four out of five categories in a national study by RootMetrics.com that measured network performance.
In a six-month review of reliability, speed, call quality, data and text messaging, Verizon Wireless’s score was 89.7 out of 100 and AT&T Inc.’s was 86.2, according to the report posted on RootMetrics.com today. Speed was the only category in which Verizon Wireless trailed AT&T, the Bellevue, Washington-based network analysis firm said. Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. scored 68.2 and 64.3, respectively.
The results not only place Verizon Wireless back atop the network quality stack after it struggled with congestion issues in cities such as New York last year, they also challenge AT&T’s advertised claims of having the most reliable network. Both companies emphasize network quality as a selling point to counter T-Mobile’s price cuts and service-switching rewards.
“You’ve got a two-horse race between AT&T and Verizon, and while it is a fairly close race, Verizon comes away with most of the honors,” Bill Moore, RootMetrics Chief Executive Officer, said in an interview.
A year ago, RootMetrics released results of a speed test for long-term evolution, or LTE networks. In that report, Dallas-based AT&T’s new LTE network was hailed for having the fastest speeds. The report also helped expose some of the congestion issues that were eroding Verizon Wireless’s service quality in heavy traffic areas.
Verizon Wireless, based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, has said it addressed those bottlenecks and the company also started expansion into advanced wireless service, or AWS, to supplement network coverage in cities. The phones used by more than two dozen RootMetrics researchers in the study during the second half of 2013 didn’t include Verizon’s new AWS radio frequencies, Moore said.
Verizon Wireless wins top marks, largely because it has the most network coverage across the country. On a state-by-state basis Verizon Wireless had the best or tied for the best service in 45 states. AT&T was the best or equal in 16 states.
On the city level, AT&T had much better results. Of the 125 markets tested by RootMetrics, AT&T won or tied for first in 92 markets on speed. This reflects AT&T’s network upgrade pattern starting with cities and moving outward, Moore said. Newer networks, by their nature have less traffic and therefore less congestion.
Verizon Wireless remained the winner on call quality in cities tested, and either won or tied for first in call, data and text messaging reliability in 102 markets.
“Speed will ebb and flow, its really about capacity,” he said. “Our big focus is on reliability. Speed doesn’t matter if you can’t stay connected.”
Both Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation’s third and fourth largest competitors, came in last or second to last in every category tested by RootMetrics.
Given the two-year lead Verizon Wireless has on LTE expansion, with AT&T follow shortly after, there’s a wide gap in network quality between the top two carriers and the smaller peers that are in the early stages of upgrading, Moore said.
Sprint is spending about $7 billion this year on network construction, refitting its former Nextel network and incorporating the added airwaves acquired with the takeover of Clearwire Corp. to offer a super-fast service called Spark.
T-Mobile is also adding high-speed network capacity and said last week that it has LTE in 95 of the top 100 U.S. cities. The company said it expects to spend about $4.4 billion on capital expenses including network modernization this year.
“There is a disparity today, but no one is out of the running, this is going to evolve into an interesting horse race,” Moore said.
“T-Mobile has taken the gloves off, and Sprint’s going through a transitional period right now, but what we see with their new Spark network could be a game changer.”
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