While our good ol' 4G LTE networks speeds are beginning to appear in the rearview mirror, especially in the few areas where Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint have 5G equipment up and running, it has been a remarkable ride.
A new LTE study for the past five years by research firm RootMetrics
shines a light on how far we've come in terms of average speeds. The fastest median download speed at the beginning of 2014, for instance, was achieved with Verizon’s 31.8 Mbps score in Flint, MI.
Fast forward to the present, and the fastest median download speed marked at the end of 2019 was reached by AT&T with 66.6 Mbps in Baltimore, MD, or more than double the rate.
The fastest 4G LTE download speeds in the US 2014-2020
|Time period||Metro||Carrier||Speed in Mbps|
|1H 2014||Flint, MI||Verizon||31.8|
|2H 2014||Grand Rapids, MI||Verizon||33.4|
|1H 2015||Atlanta, GA||Verizon||35.8|
|2H 2015||Lansing, MI||T-Mobile||44.9|
|1H 2016||Lansing, MI||T-Mobile||41.5|
|2H 2016||Lansing, MI||T-Mobile||50.4|
|1H 2017||Lansing, MI||T-Mobile||48.9|
|2H 2017||Fort Wayne, IN||Verizon||50.1|
|1H 2018||Flint, MI||T-Mobile||61.6|
|2H 2018||Flint, MI||T-Mobile||57.0|
|1H 2019||Dayton, OH||Verizon||67.8|
|2H 2019||Baltimore, MD||AT&T||66.6|
Looking at the RootMetrics' score points above, one can't help but wonder if there has been some sort of healthy competition between the Verizon and T-Mobile network teams in Michigan. We kid, but only last year out of the five presented here, there hasn't been a city in Michigan that wasn't the winner of the speed race, culminating in the Baltimore knockout of AT&T.
Verizon vs T-Mobile vs AT&T and Sprint download speeds
Those 66.6 Mbps download speeds in the Charm City are certainly impressive, more so since RootMetrics uses the median rather than the average number that can be significantly skewed by values that are extremely high or extremely low, and we all know how carriers love to brag about peak speeds.
What's even more useful, however, is mapping how those 4G LTE speeds developed over time, and here Verizon takes the lead with its early LTE network launch, and consistently high speeds. It is also a 5G pioneer with ultrafast mmWave speeds, but we'll see how the median numbers hold when all carriers start saturating the low- to high bands.
US carriers median 4G LTE download speeds
The RootMetrics report lists several key factors for the end results presented in the study, and Doug King, its Director of Business Development, is remaining optimistic that the trend will only continue and accelerate with the 5G rollout.
- 4G LTE and carrier aggregation technology contribute to faster speeds: While the carriers launched 4G LTE at different times from 2010 through 2013, results showed that 4G LTE coverage reached a point of near ubiquity in approximately 2017. It’s no coincidence that the carriers began clocking much faster speeds around the same time and have shown continuous, incremental gains ever since.
- Verizon grabs an early lead: Verizon launched its 4G LTE service earlier than the competition and delivered speeds of 20 Mbps or better across the 125 markets tested dating back to roughly 2015. AT&T and T-Mobile, meanwhile, began providing speeds of 20 Mbps or faster in approximately 2017. Sprint, which launched 4G LTE in 2012, hasn’t quite caught up with the other carriers, but Sprint has shown much faster speeds in the past few years.
- Technology takes time to reach its potential: 4G LTE technology and carrier aggregation clearly played significant roles in the carriers’ trend of delivering faster speeds, but it’s equally clear that new technologies take time to mature before they meet their potential. It took a few years after 4G LTE deployments before all four carriers began consistently registering median download speeds of 20 Mbps or faster, and it could take a few more years before 5G provides the ultra-fast speeds that it’s capable of.
- Faster speeds can transform the end-user mobile experience: Faster speeds open up new possibilities for what one can accomplish on a smartphone or other connected device. At the 4G LTE speeds of today, for example, end users can enjoy instant-start, buffer-free video streaming that wouldn’t have been possible at the speeds of five or six years ago. And once the many promises of 5G become a reality, it could provide a quantum leap to speeds and latency and ultimately lead to real-time virtual reality experiences, zero-lag multiplayer mobile gaming, and even driverless cars and remote surgery.
All four carriers have shown strong speed improvements on 4G LTE dating back to 2014, and we expect that trend to endure and possibly become even more pronounced as 5G continues to take hold. Those faster speeds allow end users to enjoy seamless video streaming, quick file downloads, and smooth mobile gaming, among other things. That’s especially good news for consumers in these chaotic times as people are spending more and more time at home