Best wireless network in KC? Two reports on Monday disagreed

Who has the best wireless network in Kansas City? It depends on whom you ask.

T-Mobile US topped Kansas City’s latest wireless network tests released Monday by RootMetrics, posting a win or tie in each of six categories ranked.

Sprint finished second overall in testing that looked at networks’ reliability, speed, data, call and text performance in the first half of this year.

Monday’s report was the first time since 2011 that Verizon failed to appear in the top rank with at least a tie for the best overall performance. It also was the first time the two smaller wireless companies topped their larger rivals in the Kansas City market.

Sprint and T-Mobile, however, each fared less well in another network test released Monday.

PC Magazine said its tests, which focused on network speed, found AT&T and Verizon sharing top scores in Kansas City. T-Mobile scored slightly less well, and Sprint was a clear laggard.

PC Mag’s report said Sprint delivered some high download speeds in Kansas City but suffered from spotty performance.

“Sprint’s problem was all about consistency,” the magazine’s Kansas City report said. “Throughout our Kansas City tests, we saw our Sprint devices shoot up to spectacular speeds, then plummet to very low speeds at a different location an hour later.”

Speed and data performance were two categories in the RootMetrics tests that brought down Sprint’s overall performance. It finished fourth in those two categories.

Sprint beat its larger rivals overall by posting a tie with T-Mobile for the most reliable network and the best call performance in Kansas City. All four carriers tied for best text performance.

Sprint’s overall second place showing in its hometown market was good news for the company, though it strives to be first, said Scott Santi, vice president of network in Sprint’s central region.

Santi said RootMetrics’ test drives covered more suburban ground than previous testing, and that hurt Sprint’s results. The company’s fastest data speeds come over its 2.5 GHz wireless spectrum frequencies, but these are concentrated in the city’s denser core.

Sprint is expanding its speedier spectrum footprint in the Kansas City market with small cells and its recently introduced Magic Box equipment, which solved city hall’s Pendergast problem. Santi said the faster 2.5 GHz service covers about 65 percent of the market now and should cover the entire market by the end of next year.

In RootMetrics’ testing, T-Mobile pulled ahead of Verizon in the new report after the two carriers had been tied in the previous report.

Two years ago, the first-half rankings by RootMetrics had Sprint in a tie with Verizon for the overall performance in the Kansas City market. CEO Marcelo Claure, and Sprint’s advertising, hailed the tie as reason to crow.

“It’s not that Verizon’s getting worse,” said Annette Hamilton, director of communications for RootMetrics. “It’s that everyone else is improving faster, particularly in this case T-Mobile.”

Hamilton said wireless technology and 4G data networks are improving. But she tied the networks’ relative performances to the investments the companies make in their networks in specific markets.

“Clearly, they’ve been making investments in Kansas City, and it’s paying off,” she said of T-Mobile’s top ranking.

Along those lines, PC Mag had this to say about Kansas City’s wireless experience.

“Let’s note that KC was one of the fastest cities we saw overall,” the magazine report said. “All of the carriers are powerful choices here.... Kansas City is growing as a Midwestern tech hub, and it looks like it has the infrastructure to suit.”

AT&T said a year ago that it had boosted 4G network capacity in Kansas City by 40 percent. The company counted nearly 330 wireless network upgrades in the area last year, either to add new cell sites or increase capacity at existing sites.

And while AT&T led PC Magazine’s Kansas City report in a tie with Verizon, AT&T has not led RootMetrics’ Kansas City rankings, with a win or tie overall, since the second half of 2013.

But the scores are close. T-Mobile’s top score in RootMetric’s report was 97.8. Sprint,Verizon and AT&T followed at 96.8, 96.7 and 96.5, respectively.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar