US ranks 40th globally for mobile download speeds

The advent of 5G mobile network deployments pushed the US up three spots to 40th globally, though with an average download speed of 33.88 Mbps, there's a long way to the top.

Separating the hype from reality in initial 5G mobile networks and smartphones

Mobile phone network performance in the US continues to lag behind other countries, according to Ookla's 2019 US Mobile Performance Report, measuring the first half of this year. Deployment of 5G mobile networks—constrained to limited availability in select markets—is dramatically increasing speeds in those cities, though the full effect of these deployments will not be seen in aggregate surveys of speed tests on mobile phones until a greater number of 5G NR-capable devices are widely available.

On a state-by-state basis, Rhode Island tops the list, with an overall mean download of 49.71 Mbps. The top 10 are rounded out with Minnesota, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, New York, with Pennsylvania in 10th at download speeds of 38.68 Mbps. (Michigan is the 11th on the list, but only the 10th state per se, though the District of Columbia effectively functions as a state.)

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Population density plays a significant role in these figures—of the top 10 states listed, Minnesota is the only state not among the 10 most densely populated states in the US. The bottom of the list reflects population trends as well, with Oklahoma, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Wyoming the states with the slowest. 

Globally, the US ranked 40th worldwide for mean download speed in Q1-Q2 2019, placing between Spain and Saudi Arabia. Performance was markedly worse for upload speed, with the US ranked 94th, between Angola and Poland. This gives a rather bleak impression of the US mobile market. However, the US is the fourth largest country in the world, in terms of land mass—behind Russia, Canada, and China—making it geographically difficult to service. 

What's the fastest mobile network in the US?

Naturally, the fastest carrier depends on your location in the US. Per Ookla's estimation, AT&T is the top operator in a majority of states, though Verizon Wireless offers better service in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii; while T-Mobile provides better service in Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, Maine, Vermont, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Wyoming. For Rhode Island, the top operator position is shared between Sprint and Verizon, while AT&T and Verizon share Louisiana.

That said, consistent acceptable speed—which Ookla defines as 5 Mbps or greater—was more likely nationwide with Verizon Wireless, which received an acceptable speed ratio of 87.3%, while T-Mobile placed second with 86.9%. AT&T placed third, at 85.9%, a 10.3% improvement year-over-year.

AT&T's improvements are enabled by infrastructure upgrades related to the deployment of AT&T FirstNet. "AT&T wisely used this opportunity to also upgrade the existing radio access infrastructure, including replacing the aging Alcatel-Lucent equipment with Nokia in some areas," the report stated, adding that "this strategy, combined with a slew of Category 15-20 LTE smartphones, meant a tremendous boost in coverage, speeds and overall capacity."

For more, check out "Google and Dish Network exploring new mobile network to compete with Sprint/T-Mobile" and "How will mmWave technology limit deployments of 5G to rural and suburban communities?" on TechRepublic.

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Image: iStock/fizkes