Fiber is a great deal if you can get it, but Comcast’s Xfinity cable rules nationwide in the first-ever ISP awards handed out by Ookla’s Speedtest.net. (Disclosure: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis. which also owns PCMag.com.) T-Mobile and Verizon, meanwhile, share honors for wireless LTE networks, depending on how you slice the pie.
Ookla, the world’s largest operator of crowd-sourced speed tests, runs more than 5 million tests a day worldwide, and it drew from six months’ worth of its database to see which is the fastest
Comcast won the award for the fastest ISP nationwide, as well as bagging 48 of the state and city awards, the most of any ISP. Comcast has been improving and experimenting with higher speeds, peaking at a 505Mbps fiber-based tier. It’s followed by Cox and Time Warner, both of which scored better on average download speeds than Verizon FiOS—showing that yes,
Ookla’s city-by-city awards show how competition can really improve Americans’ lives. Small, local fiber providers often win where they’re available:
The Download and the Threshold
Fiber connections don’t always win Ookla’s awards, and some of that is because of Ookla’s methodology. The methodology also explains why many of Ookla’s results are different from our own Fastest ISPs results.
For ISPs, Ookla only counts download results, not upload results, and takes the top 10 percent of service performance rather than averaging all tests. That is designed to describe the top end of affordable service.
So in New York, for instance, Verizon FiOS didn’t win. That’s because, first of all, very few people subscribe to FiOS’s 300Mbps and higher tiers, and because FiOS’s strength over Time Warner Cable at 100Mbps is on uploads, which Ookla doesn’t count. That makes Time Warner Cable the winner in New York State thanks to its top-notch download performance, although FiOS and Optimum both had higher upload speeds.
Like our own awards, these awards also obfuscate how little choice most Americans have. Take New York, the city I know best. Ookla rates four ISPs: Time Warner Cable, RCN, Verizon FiOS, and “Verizon Internet,” which is DSL. But RCN and FiOS only serve limited buildings and neighborhoods, meaning for many New Yorkers, their only choice is between Time Warner Cable and DSL. According to the Center for Public Integrity, about 70 percent of Americans have one or fewer choices for 25Mbps or better broadband, and it’s usually one of the large cable providers.
ISPs also had to represent at least 3 percent of tests in a city or state to be eligible. That threshold let through some fascinating smaller ISPs, like Wave G in Seattle and Webpass in the Bay Area (which is, by the way, the nation’s fastest WISP), but it may have eliminated some even smaller providers.
The Fastest Wireless Network
Ookla anointed T-Mobile the fastest wireless network in the country, although Verizon Wireless won more individual cities. T-Mobile won because the national test set included results from more locations than the metro area test sets did, Ookla explained.
Ookla’s methodology with wireless is completely different from our Fastest Mobile Networks tests. We drove around 30
Between the two of them, Verizon (with 83 wins) and T-Mobile (with 79) took almost all of the metro areas surveyed, Ookla said. AT&T won in a mere nine metro areas; Sprint won one. Verizon and T-Mobile averaged 18-19Mbps down.
Setting landline and wireless speeds next to each other also shows why you can’t just substitute wireless Internet for landline connections. Where the wireless networks run at up to 20Mbps on average, modern landline ISPs won’t get out of bed for less than 100Mbps. Mobility is a huge advantage, but the two kinds of services are apples and oranges.
3 Studies, 4 Opinions
So what are you to make of all the broadband studies out there? There’s us, Ookla, Root Metrics, OpenSignal, and more.
Pretty much everybody agrees on some things. Fiber is fast; get it if you can. Verizon has the best nationwide wireless network, but T-Mobile is often faster where it has coverage. DSL and Sprint are both slow.
Competition also matters in landline Internet. The true standouts aren’t the big cable providers, but smaller fiber providers who are driving the industry forward. In turn, they’ve spurred the cable providers to develop new speed tiers over 150Mbps. Policies to encourage local, competitive fiber providers would help improve U.S. Internet speeds.
Disclosure: Ookla and PCMag.com are both owned by Ziff Davis, although they are operated independently. Ookla provides the data for our Fastest ISPs awards and for this year’s Fastest Mobile Networks Canada awards, but not Fastest Mobile Networks USA. I wrote all the little blurbs describing ISPs on Ookla’s awards site.