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US 4G speeds up, as carriers battle with unlimited data

4G LTE data speeds in the US declined following the rollout of unlimited data packages, but they're now showing signs of recovery.

Published onJanuary 18, 2018

It’s been almost a full year since US carriers AT&T and Verizon launched their unlimited data plans in a bid to curtail the Uncarrier’s aggressive campaign to pinch customers. But the surge in all you can eat data hasn’t been without its compromises, as average speeds across US networks suffered a hit in the aftermath. The latest data from researchers at OpenSignal reveals that US carriers are now starting to get to grips with the increased pressure placed on their networks.

Unlimited data takes its toll on US 4G speeds
According to the data, typical LTE speeds for both Verizon and AT&T are back on an upward trajectory. After speeds fell by as much as 3.2 and 2.1 Mbps respectively throughout 2017, both of these carrier saw an uptick in speeds towards the end of the year following additional capacities rollouts. Verizon saw the biggest decline, but has also seen the best recovery, clocking in at around 15.9 Mbps typical speeds come November 2017, an increase of 1.5 Mbps from its lowest point.

Unfortunately both AT&T and Verizon are still offering customers typically lower speeds than there were at the beginning of last year, before the rollout of their unlimited data plans. Clearly the increased network strain is still taking a toll on capacity at these big two players. T-Mobile has fared much better over the same period though, managing to boost its typical speeds by as much as 2 Mbps, making it now by far the fastest network in the US. Sprint has seen similar gains, its latest result clocking in at 11.8 Mbps and placing it hot on the heels of AT&T.

Verizon appears to be well on the way to recovering its previous speeds, but it’s going to be a longer climb if the carrier hopes to catch up with T-Mobile. The same can’t be said for AT&T, although it looks unlikely that speeds will drop any further.

A new study suggests T-Mobile customers use the most data

Interestingly enough, a recent study from Strategy Analytics suggests that T-Mobile customers consume the most cellular data out of the big four, while Verizon customers are more partial to WiFi. With that in mind, the fact that T-Mobile has managed to build the fastest network speeds is impressive, especially given that its business is heavily focused on unlimited data packages. The company’s rollout of 600 MHz spectrum, along with 480p/DVD quality video streaming and 3G tethering limitations have undeniably helped here.

Overall, the standings still appear to reflect data from the midpoint of 2017. T-Mobile is now the go-to carrier if you’re looking for fastest speeds, followed by Verizon in second place after the bite of unlimited data packages. Third place is a more hotly contested battle than ever, with AT&T’s speeds suffering at a time when Sprint has managed to add plenty of additional capacity and has increased its coverage to match. Although the biggest question for most consumers in the US is almost certainly going to want to take their local coverage into account too.

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