Let’s see how Chicago’s wireless service providers are doing now. RootMetrics, the Bellevue, Washington based company, has put Chicago’s 4G wireless networks to the test again. The company’s mission is to help carriers improve network quality and be a consumer advocate for you by cutting through all the hype and helping you understand how your network performs doing the things most important to you wherever you do them in the Chicago area. How does your wireless provider measure up?
RootMetrics bought off-the-shelf Android smartphones from local stores, loaded their proprietary analysis software, and conducted a series of tests designed evaluate carrier’s network performance based on how you actually use your smartphone for phone calls, text messaging, and data services.
Apple’s iPhone is still missing from the devices tested. Even though Android devices have surpassed Apple as the leading smartphone operating system, Apple’s iPhone still represents a significant portion of the smartphone market and should be included in future tests especially since it is now available by all four carriers.
RootMetrics utilizes the most advanced off-the-shelf smartphones available to the public at the time of our testing. When testing the Chicago area, we used the following devices:
Data Performance – The Need for Speed:
AT&T has the fastest 4G network in Chicago, with Verizon coming in second second. T-Mobile Sprint and T-Mobile bring up the rear with significantly slower speeds. Here’s a closer look at how things stacked up when comparing download speeds for the four major carriers.
- AT&T: 19.1 Mbps
- Verizon: 13.5 Mbps
- T-Mobile: 9.6 Mbps
- Sprint: 5.3 Mbps
It’s important to note that data speeds are dependent on network load or simply put the number of subscribers using it at any given time. Therefore a lightly loaded (or newly deployed network) will by default have fewer subscribers and a faster higher data rate. So realize that if a lot of people get on your service provider’s network, your speeds will decrease. Also, Sprint was reportedly undergoing a major network upgrade during the time of the RootMetrics test, look for some performance gains for the company in future tests.
Call Performance – Just Talking
If you decide to use your smartphone to talk to someone, Chicago’s networks have a very low call failure rate; with AT&T and Verizon virtually tied for superior call performance, each with a 0.2% failure rate. T-Mobile’s failure rate is 0.5% and Sprint has highest call failure rate with 1.5% more than seven times that of AT&T or Verizon. But let’s keep things in perspective. A failure rate of 0.2% means that 1 out of 500 calls would fail or drop. So even with Sprint’s sad performance we are only talking about roughly 7 out of 500 calls failing.
Sending text messages comes down to two factors, the network successfully sending your text and the time it takes for your text to be delivered. While AT&T is the winner according to the RootMetrics score card, each of the other carriers performs quite well when it comes to texting. AT&T and Verizon had the most reliable text performances during testing, with send failure rates below 0.1% on average. All four carriers delivered texts in less than 10 seconds at least 96% of the time.
Overall Performance: AT&T Gets Top Honors
RootMetrics gave AT&T its top honors in the Chicago market. AT&T’s overall top score is definitely due in some part to its increased deployment of 4G LTE in the area. Click Here to read the full Chicago test report.
Making a Personal Connection:
RootMetrics has taken the extra step to the make the vast amount of data collected accessible and meaningful to you in a couple of key ways by using the tools described below.
- Interactive Map: Use the interactive map to see how your carrier performs in your neighborhood, your commute route and places you normally visit. Just click on the Check Coverage link on their website, type in your city and state, select your carrier and see what the coverage and data speeds are per carrier. This is very useful if you’re considering switching carriers.
- Coverage App: You can get the app, available in the Android Market and App Store for Android and iOS smartphones respectively. This app will test your network’s call performance and data speeds down to the street level in real-time. You can report dropped calls, poor voice quality, slow network, dropped connections, and even device problems. Reporting your mobile experience provides critical data for improving network quality.
Price Still Matters:
Understanding how Chicago’s wireless networks perform is one thing, but knowing how much it’s going to cost you is just as critical. RootMetrics had plans to add a pricing component to help consumers decipher the various pricing plans, but that has yet to materialize. This is certainly not an easy task when you consider how challenging it can be to choose the smartphone and service plan that’s just right for you. Adding price to the network performance results is the key to giving you a clear, unbiased measure of network performance and total value for your money. Providing clarity in a notoriously cloudy industry may make service providers a little nervous, but it will force them to bring their A-game if they want to keep you as a customer. Let’s hope RootMetrics figures out a clever way to keep you informed and service providers on their toes.
Public Transportation & High Rise Coverage:
- Despite RootMetrics extensive testing in Chicago, network performance on public transportation still hasn’t been considered. According to Bill Moore, CEO of RootMetrics, one reason for this is the sheer number of rides that would be needed to adequately characterize public transportation in Chicago. This won't be cheap. Can someone from CTA & Metra hook these guys up with some passes? Given the large number of CTA/Metra riders using wireless networks every day, understanding performance on Metra and CTA would be a tremendous value to Chicagoans when choosing a service provider.
- RootMetrics conducted roughly 16% of their extensive tests indoors which is great; but since we have more than a few high rises in Chicago, knowing your carrier’s performance in high rise building is a key piece of data. If you live in a high rise, take the train to work, and spend your day deep inside another high rise building, knowing how your service provider’s network will perform for you is critical.
Obviously testing every high rise and CTA/Metra route in Chicago isn't practical; but more of these environments need to be added to the test mix the next time the company returns to Chicago for another round of testing. Bill Moore says plans are definitely in the works for the 2014 test suite to do just that.