Wireless network quality problems worse in urban and rural areas

We all tend to complain about problems with the cellular service on our mobile phones-spotty connections, dead spots, slow performance.

Despite the way the mobile carriers have built up their 4G infrastructure over the years, you inevitably bump into hiccups, sometimes occasionally and sometimes frequently. And that typically depends on where live or you use your phone. A study released Thursday by analytics firm J.D. Power found differences in network performance based on location.

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Residents living in urban areas were hit by the highest number of overall network quality problems, according to the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study -Volume 1.

People in rural areas experienced the second-highest number of network problems. With 5G being rolled out, the results open the door for regional challenges for the major carriers, J.D. Power said.

"The network quality problems wireless customers are experiencing in urban, suburban, and rural areas each require different solutions, given the unique nature of their environments," Ian Greenblatt, managing director at J.D. Power, said in a press release.

"Managing customer expectations for speed and reliability will be critical across these different tiers because the user perception of speed on a high-band frequency vs. a low-band frequency will be very different, driving dissimilar experiences," Greenblatt stated.

Most wireless users are likely expecting a significant improvement in network speed and performance with 5G networks and devices. But given the disparity of network reliability across the country, carriers may have to temper those expectations.

"The continued rollout of multitier 5G strategies, delivering shorter-range, high-band frequencies in densely populated urban settings and longer-range, low-band frequencies in rural settings has the power to address these challenges, but only if providers properly set those expectations against the reality of the real-world speeds of 5G," Greenblatt said.

Of course, your cellular performance and reliability also depend greatly on your carrier. Among the major carriers, Verizon Wireless came out on top across all six regions of the US with the lowest number of network quality problems per 100 connections. Specifically, Verizon was tops for call quality, messaging quality, and data quality.

Beyond Verizon, the results varied by region.

In the Mid-Atlantic, T-Mobile took second place behind Verizon, followed by AT&T and Sprint. In the North Central Region, US Cellular took the second spot, followed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. In the Northeast, AT&T was behind Verizon, with T-Mobile and Sprint following.

In the Southeast, T-Mobile took the No. 2 spot, with AT&T and Sprint behind. In the Southwest, AT&T was in second, followed by Sprint and T-Mobile. And in the West, T-Mobile took second place, followed by AT&T and Sprint.

J.D. Powers' 2020 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study - Volume 1 is based on responses from 33,750 wireless customers. Carrier performance was examined in six regions: Mid-Atlantic, North Central, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and West.

Beyond evaluating the network quality experienced by customers with wireless phones, the study also measured the network performance of tablets and mobile broadband devices. This latest study was conducted from July through December 2019.

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