Searching for a new cell phone plan but not sure whether to go with T-Mobile or AT&T? A key factor that can make or break your wireless experience is coverage. Nothing is more frustrating than spotty reception and dropped calls.
You want a network with the most extensive and reliable service possible. But T-Mobile and AT&T coverage maps reveal key differences that impact real-world performance. To help you decide which carrier is best, we‘ll conduct an in-depth analysis of 4G LTE and 5G availability across T-Mobile and AT&T.
By comparing coverage in multiple categories, we can determine which network truly reigns supreme when it comes to keeping you connected on the go. Let‘s explore the data and maps to answer the ultimate question: should you choose T-Mobile or AT&T for better nationwide coverage?
How We Evaluated T-Mobile and AT&T‘s Coverage
First, how exactly did we conduct an apples-to-apples comparison of both networks‘ coverage footprints? We analyzed six key factors that impact real-world reception and speeds:
4G LTE availability: The backbone of wireless connectivity
5G coverage at 7/1 Mbps speeds: Decent speeds for web browsing and streaming
5G coverage at 35/3 Mbps: Blazing fast speeds for large downloads
Stationary outdoor coverage: Reception standing still outside
In-vehicle mobile coverage: Reliability when driving or riding in a car
This multi-dimensional analysis paints a comprehensive picture of where each carrier shines and falls short. We gathered the latest coverage data from the FCC, Ookla, RootMetrics, Opensignal, and the carriers themselves.
Now, let‘s see how T-Mobile and AT&T measure up across these important coverage criteria.
T-Mobile vs. AT&T: 4G LTE Coverage
4G LTE remains the most prevalent network technology powering modern smartphones. While 5G grabs headlines, 4G LTE continues to handle the bulk of mobile traffic. About 95% of Americans use LTE for cellular connectivity, so nationwide 4G footprint is an important starting point for our coverage comparison.
Stationary Outdoor 4G Coverage
When standing still outside in urban and rural areas, both AT&T and T-Mobile provide solid 4G coverage across much of the eastern US. However, AT&T‘s footprint is clearly more expansive.
- AT&T 4G LTE covers 55% of the country
- T-Mobile 4G LTE covers 35% of the country
According to 2021 data from Ookla, AT&T had superior median 4G download speeds compared to T-Mobile both nationwide (33.85 Mbps vs. 29.34 Mbps) and in rural areas (16.68 Mbps vs. 12.58 Mbps).
AT&T enjoys widespread 700 MHz spectrum holdings, which provide great range and building penetration ideal for stationary usage. T-Mobile relies more on higher frequency bands like 1900 MHz.
Bottom line: AT&T wins for outdoor stationary 4G availability and speeds.
In-Vehicle Mobile 4G Coverage
When you hit the road, the coverage comparison shifts even further in AT&T‘s favor. Their robust, low-band spectrum provides significantly more in-vehicle 4G connectivity.
- AT&T‘s 4G network covers 43% of the country when mobile
- T-Mobile‘s 4G footprint drops to just 9% when mobile
AT&T also exhibits much greater reliability when moving at highway speeds:
- AT&T‘s average 4G availability when driving is over 90%
- T-Mobile‘s average 4G availability driving is below 40%
Additionally, Ookla recorded faster median download speeds for AT&T vs. T-Mobile when mobile (14.28 Mbps vs. 8.32 Mbps).
Clearly, AT&T dominates when it comes to in-vehicle 4G connectivity thanks to their spectrum assets.
Winner: AT&T for far superior on-the-go 4G coverage.
T-Mobile vs. AT&T: 5G Coverage at 7/1 Mbps Speeds
Now let‘s examine how T-Mobile and AT&T‘s 5G coverage at 7/1 Mbps compares. While not the fastest 5G offers, 7/1 Mbps provides a noticeable speed bump for web use and video streaming. How widespread is this 5G experience?
Stationary Outdoor 5G Coverage at 7/1 Mbps
T-Mobile edges ahead of AT&T when standing still outside with 5G at 7/1 Mbps. Their mid-band 5G spectrum blankets major cities and rural regions:
- T-Mobile 5G covers 26% of the country stationary outdoors at 7/1 Mbps
- AT&T 5G covers 31% stationary outdoors at 7/1 Mbps
However, AT&T recorded slightly faster median 5G download speeds according to 2021 data from Ookla (55.13 Mbps vs. 54.48 Mbps for T-Mobile).
While T-Mobile covers more urban and rural areas, AT&T maintains faster overall speeds. A close matchup.
Slight edge to T-Mobile for more balanced stationary outdoor 5G at 7/1 Mbps.
In-Vehicle Mobile 5G Coverage at 7/1 Mbps
Enter a vehicle in motion, and the advantage shifts back to AT&T thanks to low-band 5G rolled out nationwide:
- AT&T covers 26% of the country with 5G at 7/1 Mbps mobile
- T-Mobile‘s in-vehicle coverage plunges to 6%
RootMetrics testing saw AT&T achieve 3x more consistent access to 5G when driving cross-country.
T-Mobile‘s mid-band 5G lacks the range and penetration needed for reliable in-vehicle access, giving AT&T the edge.
Winner: AT&T offers far wider 5G coverage at 7/1 Mbps mobile speeds.
T-Mobile vs. AT&T: 5G Coverage at 35/3 Mbps Speeds
For even faster 5G performance at 35/3 Mbps, how do both networks compare? This threshold enables lightning quick video downloads and streaming. But coverage is much spottier nationwide at these cutting edge speeds.
Stationary Outdoor 5G Coverage at 35/3 Mbps
Surprisingly, T-Mobile‘s mid-band 5G significantly outpaces AT&T in major cities when stationary outside:
- T-Mobile covers 15% of the country at 35/3 Mbps speeds stationary
- AT&T‘s stationary 35/3 Mbps footprint is just 10%
T-Mobile‘s average time connected to 5G above 100 Mbps was over 2x higher than AT&T (22.4% vs. 9.8%) according to Ookla.
Standing still in urban areas, T-Mobile‘s 5G clearly enables faster speeds.
Advantage T-Mobile for more widespread stationary 35/3 Mbps 5G.
In-Vehicle Mobile 5G Coverage at 35/3 Mbps
Hit the open road and the script flips. Neither network provides expansive coast-to-coast 35/3 Mbps 5G coverage:
- AT&T‘s in-vehicle footprint is 10% of the country
- T-Mobile plummets to just 3% mobile coverage
RootMetrics found AT&T offered 3x more consistent access to 5G above 100 Mbps driving cross-country. T-Mobile‘s coverage largely disappears.
When you need speed on the go, AT&T is the only real choice.
Winner: AT&T for far wider mobile 5G coverage at 35/3 Mbps.
Who Has the Best Nationwide 5G Coverage?
Given the nuances we just explored, is one national carrier clearly ahead when it comes to comprehensive 5G availability? Let‘s isolate regions with at least 50% 5G coverage to spot overall trends.
Stationary Outdoor 5G Coverage
Both networks provide excellent 5G availability up and down the East Coast when standing outside. However, most of the western half of the country remains a dead zone, with less than 50% coverage stationary for either carrier.
T-Mobile beats AT&T in key metro areas, but AT&T‘s wider low-band footprint gives them the edge overall for outdoor stationary access.
In-Vehicle Mobile 5G Coverage
The gaps become extremely apparent when looking at places with 50% or better mobile 5G coverage from either carrier.
T-Mobile‘s in-vehicle network completely vanishes, save for pockets along the coasts and Southeast. AT&T fares better but still lacks robust coastal-to-coast coverage. Vast stretches of the Mountain West and Midwest are left behind.
When cruising down the highway, neither network provides consistent access today. But AT&T has a clear advantage over T-Mobile when you need 5G in a moving vehicle.
Given the current coverage maps, AT&T wins for best overall 5G availability considering both stationary and mobile use cases. However, there are pros and cons to each network:
AT&T 5G Pros
- Faster nationwide median 5G download speeds
- Greater 5G reliability when traveling in a vehicle
- Wider low-band footprint provides broader coverage by mileage
T-Mobile 5G Pros
- Better urban and rural stationary coverage at 7/1 Mbps speeds
- Significantly faster peak speeds when stationary thanks to mid-band 5G
- Edge in download speeds in some recent studies
But AT&T‘s spectrum arsenal enables noticeably better coverage today for users needing connectivity across wide geographies and while on the move.
As carriers continue rapidly building out 5G, coverage will keep improving. But based on the latest data, AT&T currently delivers the most extensive and reliable next-gen network experience.
Which Carrier Should You Choose for Better Coverage?
At the end of the day, weighing total 4G LTE and 5G availability across many metrics, AT&T comes out on top for coverage.
Key advantages for AT&T:
- Far wider 4G LTE footprint, especially when mobile
- More consistent 5G access driving state-to-state
- Low-band 5G deployment provides broader nationwide coverage
However, T-Mobile remains extremely competitive:
- Impressive 5G speeds in urban centers thanks to mid-band spectrum
- Strategic coverage expansions extended their network to underserved rural regions
- Lower prices and great plan perks remain strengths
Hopefully this detailed breakdown of the latest coverage data helps you determine which carrier is the best fit. While AT&T leads in availability metrics, both networks continue improving at a rapid clip. It pays to do your homework before picking a long-term wireless provider. Whichever you choose, safe travels and happy surfing!