AT&T had the single highest download speed, at 50.8 Mbps in the 2300 MHz band, in a test of spectrum band performance conducted by OpenSignal in anticipation of the upcoming millimeter wave spectrum auction this month and a mid-band auction next year.
The study looked at download performance of the four major carriers in a total of 16 bands:
- AT&T: 12.1 Mbps (Band 12, 700 MHz), 16.8 Mbps (Band 5, 850 MHz), 35.7 Mbps (Band 2 1900 PCS), 30.1 Mbps (Band 4, 66 2100 MHz AWS-1/AWS-3) and 50.8 Mbps (2300 MHz WCS).
- Sprint: 3.9 Mbps (Band 26, 850+ MHz), 12.2 Mbps (Band 25 1900+MHz) and 41 Mbps (Band 41, 2500 MHz TD).
- T-Mobile: 15 Mbps (Band 71 600 MHz), 7.4 Mbps (Band 12, 700 MHz) 23.3 Mbps (Band 2, 1900 PCS) and 29.9 Mbps (Band 4, 66 2100 MHz AWS-1/AWS-3).
- Verizon: 12.4 Mbps (Band 13, 700 MHz), 18.6 Mbps (Band 5, 850 MHz), 33.4 Mbps (Band 2, 1900 PCS) and 34.4 Mbps (Band 4, 66 2100 MHz, AWS-1/AWS-3).
The differences between the download speeds are significant. “For example, on every band over 1 GHz our users’ average 4G Download Experience was greater than 23 Mbps bar one Sprint band, while on bands above 2 GHz the average user speed on each band topped 29.9 Mbps,” OpenSignal said in a blog post. “By contrast on bands below 1 GHz the average speeds experienced varied from 3.9 – 18.8 Mbps.”
Commentary in the blog suggested that Sprint and T-Mobile, which are merging, have complementary spectrum holdings. The post points out that though lower-frequency, also known as low-band, spectrum is slower, it has other characteristics – such as footprint size – that make it useful.
Verizon and AT&T are well positioned, but both face challenges. “Both carriers need the new spectrum in the ‘goldilocks’ range of 3 – 6 GHz which carriers internationally are using to add 5G capacity with good reach in Korea, Australia and Europe,” Opensignal said.
It’s important to note that bandwidth depends on the width, as well as the frequency, of spectrum holdings.
OpenSignal found that users experienced 4G download speeds of 18.1 Mbps on bands with a downlink channel width of 5 MHz, 24.7 Mbps with channels that are 10 MHz wide, 32.6 Mbps with 15-MHz channels and 37.2 Mbps with 20 MHz-wide channels.
A study by OpenSignal released in July showed a narrowing of the performance gap between the top four carriers. It was the biggest change in years, the company said.