Each of the nation's largest wireless carriers brag about having a great network, but comprehensive testing shows that network performance varies significantly from city to city.
RootMetrics recently posted its latest rankings for the top 125 U.S. metro areas, which show that the two biggest U.S. cities rank pretty low. New York came in at 59th, while Los Angeles came it at 99th.
The nation's third-largest city, Chicago, did well for a big city and was ranked fifth. Atlanta, the ninth-largest city, ranked third. No other top-10 city finished in the top 10 rankings.
For its latest report, RootMetrics performed tens of thousands of tests in the first half of 2016 using popular Android phones in all 125 cities to judge several factors: network reliability for calls, data and texting; network reliability and speed for data and texting; reliability for placing and maintaining calls.
"Highly populated areas don't necessarily equate to strong overall network performance," said Annette Hamilton, a director at RootMetrics.
Various factors come into play in large cities, including geography, age of infrastructure and population density.
"We've noticed that speed is becoming an obstacle for mobile subscribers in some of these big cities," Hamilton said. "A large amount of people on a single network can stress the system, sometimes resulting in slower speeds. As more and more people use their mobile devices to stream content and upload large files, sometimes the networks can struggle to keep up."
The RootMetrics website provides interactive tools to examine the performance of AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint in each of the metro areas across all the testing areas. For example, Verizon and T-Mobile were judged the best for overall performance in the District of Columbia area for the first half of 2016. The tools can access reports back to 2011.
The other six U.S. cities in the top 10 largest cities finished as follows in overall performance: Miami, 84th; Philadelphia, 40th; Dallas, 18th; Houston, 51st; Washington, 66th. The top five U.S. cities in network performance in order starting at the top were: Lansing, Mich.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; and Chicago.
The bottom five were: Lancaster, Pa., (121st); Santa Rosa, Calif. (122nd); Scranton, Pa., (123rd); Omaha, Neb. (124th); and Hudson Valley, NY (125th).