Research reveals networks operate slower than their hosts
Network testing firm Tutela recently released a report with findings that the nation’s Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) average download speeds were 23% slower than what an MVNO’s “host” network like Verizon or AT&T offer.
For starters, what’s an MVNO?
An MVNO is a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure that it uses to provides services to its customers. Think Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile as an example. MVNO’s enter business agreements with a mobile network operator to gain network service access in bulk at a wholesale rate and then can set retail prices independently.
For this year’s study, Tutela introduced a new primary metric; Consistent Quality. It did this because while reports on what networks have the fastest wireless speeds received a lot of media attention, the rest of the story when it comes to carrier service quality often goes ignored.
“While fast top speed are indicative of a strong network, reliability network quality is equally, if not more important,” the reported stated. “After all, who cares whether you can occasionally hit gigabit download speeds if half the time you’re struggling to load a Google search result?”
Tutela analyzed more than 240 billion network measurements collected from more than 2.8 million handsets across the United States between January 1 and August 31, 2018 for the report. In total, the firm collected more than 11 million speed tests and 240 billion data points to determine America’s best LTE networks.
Along with the fact that download speeds on MVNO networks were on average 23% worse than they were on the host operators, other key finds from the report were:
- Verizon delivered the highest level of consistent quality in the United States
- T-Mobile’s performance had improved rapidly as it built its network at a rapid pace.
- AT&T’s consistent quality in urban areas lagged behind Verizon and T-Mobile.
- Sprint had significantly lowered its latency but remained behind its competitors.
Back to MVNO
Tutela’s tests showed that Comcast’s Xfinity, which operates on Verizon’s network, provided about half of the average data speeds in urban areas where the firm conducted the tests—12.6Mbps compared to 24Mbps. The consistent quality score showed a 33.8 disparity in Verizon’s favor.
The performance comparison between AT&T and the MVNOs running on its network were not surprising, according to Tutela. Consumer Cellular, Cricket and H2O all had download speeds that were half of what AT&T offers in urban locations where Tutela tested both. However, H2O and Consumer Cellular both achieved higher consistently quality scores than AT&T—72.8% and 71.5%, respectively, compared to AT&T’s 67%. Researchers could not draw any absolute conclusions as to why but suggested the superior core network elements (gateways and routers) on the part of the MVNO’s as part of the reason.
Further, Tutela’s found that the MVNO download performances of Consumer Cellular, LycaMobile, MetroPCS, and Ultra Mobile were similar to T-Mobile. However, MetroPCS’ website stated that its customers’ data is, “Prioritized below data of some T-Mobile-branded customers at times and locations where competing network demands occur.” Tutela’s data revealed at busier times MetroPCS customer experience lags further behind T-Mobile than at quiet times.
Sprint’s MVNO’s, Boost and Virgin Mobile, saw their download performance fall just below Sprint’s average speeds, but the carrier had a better consistent quality score by about 10% in comparison to both resellers, according to Tutela’s research. The mark was an improvement on AT&T’s network performance against several wireless resellers on its network.
The study went on to say that while Sprint’s performance may not be inspiring in the context of this report, its spectrum holdings, infrastructure, and customer base would be a major boon to T-Mobile if the acquisition goes forward. The deal would immediately rocket the Bellevue, Washington-based company to a position of prominence on par with Verizon and AT&T.