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Which Mobile Network is REALLY the Fastest in the U.S.A.? We’ve Got Answers

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Last month, we looked to you to help PCMag decide which carrier has the speediest LTE network in all the land. Well, PCMag has tallied up their results, looked at your contributions, and has come to a not-so-definitive answer. Technically, there’s a winner, but it sure looks like we might need to put two LTE networks at the top of the podium this year.

Your overall winner is Verizon, which got a boost from their new XLTE network. Verizon XLTE added the 1,700 mHz band of spectrum to free up more bandwidth for their service, which provided an impressive speed boost to an already solid LTE network. The victory wasn’t conclusive, though—T-Mobile came in a very close second, only a year after not having their LTE network fully rolled out to all of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. T-Mobile has made huge strides since then—all 30 major metropolitan areas have access to T-Mobile’s LTE network, and as it turns out, that network is pretty impressive in more places than you might expect.

In fact, when it comes to vast numbers of urban populations out there, it seems like T-Mobile might be the best choice. T-Mobile outright won half of the cities tested by PCMag for both upload and download speeds. What brought T-Mobile down was poor rural coverage—for those out in the country or for those who frequently need to commute between cities, there’s a substantial falling off in the performance and availability of T-Mobile’s LTE network. Verizon’s XLTE network, on the other hand, remained consistent even in rural areas.

Defending champs AT&T fell far behind this year, with LTE network speeds in some places dropping by as much as half. They’re still in third—the Sprint Spark network is still in the middle of being rolled out, and was found to be disappointing in a lot of places where it was up and running. Sprint at least had LTE service up in 29 out of 30 major metropolitan areas (Sprint LTE Denver is still not a thing, unfortunately), but performance continues to lag significantly behind their three rivals, sometimes being as much as eight times slower than T-Mobile and Verizon.

For our fellow New Yorkers, NYC ended up being a microcosm of the national results. Average download speeds for Verizon and T-Mobile were between three and eight times faster than those of AT&T and Sprint, with AT&T download speeds averaging a paltry 7.6 Mbps. That’s a lot closer to the 4 Mbps of Sprint LTE than it is to the 20.5 Mbps and 31.1 Mbps of T-Mobile and Verizon LTE, respectively.

Want to see how the big four fared in your area? PCMag’s Fastest Mobile Networks 2014 has detailed breakdowns of LTE and 3G networks by nation, region, and metropolitan area right here. It’s a terrific resource, and a great reminder that you can ignore all of those advertisements touting extensive network coverage. What really matters to you isn’t how much ground these telecoms’ networks cover, but how good their LTE service is in your area. So, cut through the ads and see how the big four match up in your city (or big three, if you’re affected by Sprint LTE Denver still being a pipe dream) before making your next carrier switch.