Ookla has released its annual report on US download speeds, powered by SpeedTest Intelligence. The US improved its download speeds markedly from 2017 to 2018, but is still ranked poorly overall relative to our overall economic strength. The data set Ookla uses is drawn from over 12 million speed tests performed during Q1 and Q2 of 2018 by 2,841,471 unique devices. Overall mean download speed was 27.33Mbps while upload performance was 8.63 Mbps. Download bandwidth increased more than 20 percent compared with the same period in 2017, while upload bandwidth grew by just 1.4 percent.
According to the report, T-Mobile’s recent performance improvements are the result of aggressive deployment of 600MHz spectrum. The document states:
Because this type of spectrum propagates farther, it allows the operator to cover vast geographical areas more efficiently and utilize fewer cell sites in the process. At this point, T-Mobile has dedicated virtually all of its mid-band spectrum portfolio to LTE operations, keeping only the last 10 MHz sliver of spectrum for 3G legacy users and packing the tiny GSM channels into the LTE and UMTS guard bands for those using 2G-only devices.
In order to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for 5G and the predicted surge in data demand, T-Mobile has been deploying License Assisted Access (LAA) and using a technique called Carrier Aggregation. LAA is an advanced LTE technique which combines the existing licensed spectrum with unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band. This strategy provides a significant capacity boost in targeted dense urban areas, creating the possibility of real world speeds approaching 600 Mbps.
Rural speeds, it must be noted, are lower than urban ones, and the gaps vary by company. Sprint takes the heaviest hit in mobile in absolute terms, while AT&T has the smallest difference between its urban and rural network speeds. T-Mobile and Verizon take similar hits when moving from one segment to the other.
Verizon, however, has the largest coverage area in America’s rural markets. Of the users it surveyed, Ookla reports that 49 percent of all rural samples came from Verizon, while 30.5 percent were from AT&T, 12.1 percent from T-Mobile, and 8.3 percent from Sprint.
Ookla expects this to be the last year we see 4G and 4G-equivalent technologies deployed across the industry. 5G technology should start rolling out in 2019, in early markets — and remember, one advantage of 5G is that it can be deployed in a variety of spectrum bands and using some legacy 4G LTE equipment. There’s also the option to use targeted millimeter wave networks to offer gigabit or near-gigabit performance, at least in theory. We remain skeptical of just how much advantage these networks will deliver in practice, given that their performance and range is often attenuated by water vapor in the atmosphere. And interestingly, Sprint may be a network to watch over the next 12 months. While it remains the slowest US network overall, it grew its performance the most from 2017 – 2018 and closed the gap between itself and AT&T.
Disclaimer: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, the parent company of wfoojjaec.