Kansas City has become a battleground for wireless network supremacy, and the lead keeps changing hands, according to one testing service.
Verizon and AT&T run the best wireless networks in Kansas City, according to the latest tests by RootMetrics. But RootMetrics has crowned different winners, or combinations of winners, in each of its last six tests that come out twice a year.
T-Mobile topped RootMetrics’ report six months ago, and it had shared top honors with Verizon a year ago. Verizon held top honors alone 18 months ago, and it had tied with T-Mobile two years ago. Overland Park-based Sprint shared top honors with Verizon in Kansas City in the report before that.
In the newest rankings, AT&T and Verizon tied not only for top overall performance but also for top network reliability, top data performance and top call performance.
For AT&T, this marked its first share of top overall honors since RootMetrics’ tests four years ago when it also shared first with Verizon. In May, AT&T had said it updated hundreds of wireless sites in the Kansas City market, “primarily building new cell sites and adding capacity to existing cell sites.”
The new report’s third and fourth finishers, T-Mobile and Sprint, still fared well in the comparisons.
“They’re both very competitive, and they’re both close,” said Annette Hamilton, director of communications for RootMetrics.
Sprint’s weakest showing continues to be the network speed comparisons that make up part of RootMetrics’ testing. In the second half of 2017 report, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all tied for fastest network speeds in Kansas City.
Sprint ranked fourth in the four-company race but not for lack of improvement. Other speed tests also have flagged Sprint’s network as lagging, including Open Signal early this year.
RootMetrics said Sprint’s median download speed had improved from 19 megabits per second six months ago to 29.1 mps in the latest test. Had the competition stood still, Sprint would have been among the leaders.
The other carriers did not stand still, posting median download speeds between 33.3 mps and 37 mps.
“Sprint is just improving less fast,” Hamilton said. “That’s why it wasn’t a four-way tie.”
How much difference those speeds make depends on consumers. RootMetrics, however, said typical wireless consumers likely wouldn’t notice a difference. Sprint’s fourth-fastest download speeds are “ample” for streaming video, television and music, said Doug King, RootMetrics’ director of business development.
Sprint showed slower upload speeds, which are part of the tests, but King said these are less important to consumers’ experience on wireless networks.
In the Kansas City market, that will mean increasing network spending from $10 million during 2017 to between $40 million and $50 million in the next 18 months, said Scott Santi, a Sprint vice president of network.
Santi said that work will involve adding 100 cell sites, expanding its use of small cell sites, upgrading 250 exiting sites and applying new technologies.
The efforts would improve current wireless services and prepare for 5G wireless services that will handle emerging internet-connected devices and robots.