Unlimited data plans are killing 4G speeds in the US

Bruno Cirelli
Agosto 2, 2017

4G speeds are slowing down for many people in the U.S. as unlimited data plans become more prevalent. "They confirm what EVERY other scientific measure of customer experience finds - T-Mobile's network is now going to toe-to-toe with Verizon and AT&T ... and winning".

OpenSignal has published its regular look at wireless network performance and found that 4G speeds dropped for both AT&T and Verizon since those carriers rolled out unlimited data plans in February - dramatically in Verizon's case.

T-Mobile. The carrier consistently scores the highest across all of OpenSignal's test metrics, including availability, 3G and 4G data speeds, and latency, making it a clean sweep.

OpenSignal measured Verizon's average 4G download speed at 14.9 Mbps in this report - a 12 percent drop from the 16.9 Mbps speed it tallied in OpenSignal's February report.

It's a similar story for AT&T customers. OpenSignal says AT&T's average 4G download speed fell to 12.9 Mbps during this test period from 13.9 Mbps earlier this year. Over the same period, T-Mobile has boosted its average data speeds to 17.5 Mbps, up from 16.7 Mbps, moving clear ahead of the pack. The answer is most likely congestion. Cellular networks are shared networks, meaning individual connection speeds are dictated by the total amount of demand for data at a particular cell site.

Both Verizon and AT&T saw a notable decline in speeds after introducing unlimited plans.

For this report, OpenSignal collected over five billion measurements from 172,919 USA smartphones during the month of June with its signal mapping app.

"T-Mobile may have had the upper hand in our nationwide metrics, but in our city analysis, Verizon and T-Mobile were in a heated battle for dominance", wrote OpenSignal.

Wondering which is the fastest and most reliable carrier in the US?

In fact, Verizon's loss has been T-Mobile's gain.

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"They actually ran away with the 4G speed award". Although we've seen that Sprint's typical 4G speeds are still notably behind the bigger carriers, consumers have gained roughly 1 Mbps to their typical download speeds in the past 6 months. Although it should be said that availability varies considerably with location, and T-Mobile and Verzion tussle back and forth across various cities in the United States for the best coverage.

Of course, T-Mobile and Sprint have had unlimited data packages on the market for considerably longer, giving them time to iron out the kinks and make a number of optimizations, such as low-quality video streaming, to their networks to keep data speeds high for their customers. The Motley Fool recommends T-Mobile US.

That being said, the other big three aren't that far behind in many metrics.

We certainly don't expect either operator to let up in the coming year.

In February, Verizon began offering unlimited data plans. The more demand created for data, the more network resources get taxed. The impact appears to have hit Verizon the most. But T-Mobile is growing rapidly, and it continues to push all of its postpaid customers toward unlimited plans. If operators keep opening the data spigot wider, falling speeds could become a problem for the entire US mobile industry, not just Verizon and AT&T.

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