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Why it matters: People are spending more time on mobile devices than ever before. Selecting the right network can greatly impact the user experience although sheer speeds alone shouldn't be the only factor to consider when determining which carrier is the best fit.
If you're looking for the absolute fastest wireless network in the country, look no further than the nation's largest carrier: Verizon.
In the latest update to its annual Fastest Mobile Networks report, PCMag awarded the first place finish to Verizon with an overall score of 99 followed by T-Mobile with an aggregate score of 93. AT&T, the nation's second-largest provider, tallied a score of 88 and Sprint brought up the rear with 75 points.
In gathering its data, PCMag used custom field test software from Ookla loaded onto sets of four Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphones and driven around the country in rental cars - one down the East Coast, another along the West Coast and the third in the center of the US. All said and done, the publication visited 30 cities and executed nearly 88,000 tests from May 1 through May 23, 2018.
While Verizon earned top honors, it's important to note that we're not just looking at who has the fastest download speeds. Indeed, PCMag's results account for several factors including reliability and consistency as well as latency and upload / download speeds. In many cities, the carrier with the fastest average download speed didn't win the award.
Peak LTE connection speeds have jumped from the 200Mbps range to the 300Mbps range while average download speeds are up by about 10Mbps and latency is down by roughly 10ms compared to 2017. Carriers are pouring a ton of money into their networks and it's evident that consumers are directly benefitting from this continued investment and competition.
Another important takeaway worth highlighting is that carrier selection is only part of the equation. In the event your benchmark tests aren't as anticipated or reflective of PCMag's results, consider the device you're using before contemplating a carrier switch. Newer phones can utilize the latest network technologies that older devices may not support.
In fact, one could argue that carrier selection isn't nearly as important as it once was. These days, all networks are fast and speeds are going to increase (exponentially so) with the advent of 5G networks. Smaller carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint are locking arms to wage war against bigger competitors and even the heavyweights are eyeing mergers in hopes of remaining at the top.
That's neither here nor there, however, as we're living in the moment. Most consumers don't make decisions based on the future but rather, on what's happening right now. Furthermore, national results aren't the best indicator of hyperlocal performance. For that, you'll want to check out PCMag's individual city and regional results.