I’m not the biggest fan of Verizon’s stance on net neutrality, the wireless carrier’s costs, or the unrelated fact that I still can’t get FIOS in Silicon-freakin’-Valley, but according to PCMag, Verizon Wireless has the fastest wireless service in the country. The carrier might not have the fastest service where you live, or even any decent service whatsoever (there are some populated areas of the Bay Area that feel like black holes for Verizon’s coverage), but it’s generally the best.
There are plenty of sites you can use to figure out which of the major wireless carriers offers the best service where you live, including a carrier’s own coverage maps, which are likely to tell you that you’re going to get the speediest service ever. Convenient, but not always accurate.
In general, I enjoy PCMag’s assessment for a few reasons. First, it’s practical. The team drives around the country with a handful of devices, measuring performance while stopping in a number of places around major metropolitan areas:
“The software runs tests every 90 seconds. We measured uploads and downloads to a neutral, non-carrier server, as well as pings to the nearest server in Ookla’s network. Over the course of driving, we tested downloads from 196 different servers and pings to 434 different servers, executing about 88,000 test runs.
We stopped at between 12 and 20 locations, for at least 15 minutes each, in our 30 cities. We averaged the data in each location, then averaged the locations together for an overall city result. The aggregated data from traveling between the test locations counted into the overall averages as two more locations. As we are testing LTE networks, we did not average in speeds on non-LTE networks. If a phone dropped off an LTE network, it was treated as if the test failed.”
PCMag is also quick to point out the differences between its testing, performed while driving around to various locations, and the crowd-sourced tests you’d find at sites like OpenSignal—not to say that one approach is necessarily better than the other, it’s just different.
Most importantly, PCMag also notes that just because it is the overall winner doesn’t mean that Verizon is necessarily the best carrier for you. You’ll want to view PCMag’s testing results for the area closest to where you live and, even then, you might have a better experience with a different carrier entirely.
Below is the full list of cities PCMag explored, as well as each city’s overall winner. Be sure to click through to see PCMag’s analysis for your favorite metropolitan area, because it might make sense to pick a not-first-place carrier depending on the measured speeds of other carriers and the deals they offer. If you can save $20 a month (or get more data) on a carrier that’s almost as fast as the best-performing carrier in your area, why not?
You should also check out PCMag’s testing in rural and suburban areas, in case any of the listed cities are still a bit far away from where you live.
As always, the best way to figure out which carrier makes the most sense for you is to ask around: What do your friends use, how is their connection speed and coverage, and would they mind letting you borrow their phones for a day so you can run some speed tests yourself (with OpenSignal on iOS or Android; CellMapper on Android; or something like Sensorly on iOS or Android.)
Disclaimer: I spent years writing for PCMag, but I never participated in their annual cell phone testing. I think their huge annual test is one of the best real-world analyses of the major wireless carriers, and I think it’s all right to talk about it, but I wanted to disclose my former affiliation.