by Bill Snyder

T-Mobile Makes Impressive Start to 4G LTE Service

May 22, 20132 mins
CarriersMobileSmall and Medium Business

The smallest of the four major carriers is finally rolling out speedy 4G LTE service. It's not as fast as AT&T, but T-Mobile is neck and neck with Verizon in early testing.

T-Mobile is the last of the four major carriers to rollout 4G LTE wireless service and according to a study by RootMetrics, the company is off to a solid start, although so far it only offers the speedy connections in seven cities.

RootMetrics, a company that tests wireless connection speeds, looked at performance in just one of those markets  — Las Vegas — but the results bode well for service in other areas. That’s not to say T-Mobile blew the competition out of the water. It didn’t. AT&T continues to offer the fastest 4G LTE service across major markets, including Las Vegas, and Verizon was marginally faster in the most recent round of testing.

But now that T-Mobile has bulked up by merging with MetroPCS, its service is likely to improve over the next few years, making it worthy of consideration when you’re shopping for a wireless carrier. T-Mobile now has 4G LTE service in Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington D.C., with more markets in the planning stages.

The most obvious place to start is speed. As you can see from the chart below, AT&T was much faster than either Verizon or T-Mobile in Las Vegas. But the difference between Verizon and T-Mobile wasn’t very significant. (Sprint doesn’t offer LTE service in America’s gambling capital.)

Another important metric is what RootMetrics calls “likelihood of LTE.” Simply put, that means what are the chances you’ll connect with the service at LTE speeds. By this measure, T-Mobile lagged well behind its larger rivals. Chances of downloading data on T-Mobile’s network were 65.8 percent, compared with 99 percent on AT&T’s network, and 99.6 percent on Verizon’s.

Even so, RootMetrics calls T-Mobile’s performance “a great opening act” and notes that in tests of Sprint’s network, downloads hit LTE speed just 50.2 percent of the time.

T-Mobile is trying hard to catch its three larger rivals. Although I think T-Mobile’s claim that it offers “no contract service” is full of gotchas, its prices are certainly competitive. MetroPCS customers will be moved over to T-Mobile’s network by 2015. Once that’s done, the spectrum previously devoted to MetroPCS’ CDMA network will be repurposed to help build out T-Mobile’s LTE network.