Right now, we are in the middle of an arms race between the major United States mobile carriers. Each of them are pushing their own 5G technology on customers, and Qualcomm is enabling this battle by developing more and more 5G enabled chipsets.
The problem is that 5G coverage is sparse, to say the least. What’s more, that shoddy coverage is only available in a select few major cities. However, Americans don’t all live in major cities. In fact, according to OpenSignal, 60 million Americans live in rural areas outside of cities.
While Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are all fighting over who has the best 5G network in the States, millions of Americans are still hoping for more reliable 4G. So, if you are one of the many Americans living in a rural area outside of the country’s major cities, here are the best carrier options according to OpenSignal’s network reliability and speed tests.
Best rural coverage
Fast data speeds are great and all, but what’s the point if you can hardly get any coverage? If you are in one of OpenSignal’s three types of US rural areas (Fringe, Distant, and Remote), chances are connectivity is at the top of your priorities when looking for a mobile carrier.
In this category, Verizon takes the lead, offering more coverage than any of the other competitors. Customers in remote areas spend no less than 83.5% of their time on average within 4G coverage, while customers in fringe areas spend more than 95% of their time connected to 4G.
T-Mobile comes in second place with rural customers spending anywhere from 77.4% to 92.3% of their time to connected to 4G. AT&T comes in third with average connectivity time ranging from 75.5% to 88.8%, and Sprint comes in last with time ranging from a measly 67.3% to 88.2%.
OpenSignal says that many rural Americans will still have to wait several years before they see 5G connectivity. By the time 5G is enabled nationwide, these numbers will look different. Until then, Verizon has your 4G needs covered better than anyone else.
Fastest rural speeds
On the other side of the spectrum, reliable coverage is great and all, but what’s the point if it’s too slow to use? Now that you know what which carriers have the best coverage, which ones will get the job done faster?
AT&T has the leg up as far as download speeds and latency are concerned, but T-Mobile is hot on its tail. Though Verizon comes in third for download speeds, it has the fastest upload speeds with T-Mobile coming in second here too. Sprint is just as disappointing regarding speed as it is coverage, coming in last place in both upload and download speeds.
For obvious reasons, download speeds degrade as you get further from densely populated areas, but AT&T’s network remained strongest, ranging anywhere from 14.6Mbps to 20.2Mbps on average. T-Mobile ranged from 13.6Mbps to 20Mbps, Verizon ranged from 12.3Mbps to 19.5Mbps, and Sprint ranged from 9.5Mbps to 15.1Mbps.
Though upload speeds are important, they are not quite as crucial as download speeds. Users will have a better day-to-day experience with the faster download speeds on AT&T’s network. If you need faster upload speeds more than download speeds, Verizon is your best bet.
The best and worst rural carriers
This goes without saying, but the best rural carrier is the one that meets your needs the most. No carrier is perfect, but some are worse than others. You should always do your own research before making a decision like this.
If stable connectivity is your main priority, Verizon is the best option. AT&T is the way to go if overall faster download speeds and low latency is more important to you. If you want a good balance between the two, then T-Mobile is a solid choice. It hits the best middle ground while sacrificing the least when it doesn’t excel.
On the other end of the spectrum, you should probably stay away from Sprint no matter what. That may not be the case if you live in a city, but if you are in rural America, you are better off with any of the other three competitors. That may change one day when the T-Mobile and Sprint merger finishes, but until then, steer clear of Sprint.