One of the things that travelers expect when at an airport is robust mobile performance. Seattle-based RootMetrics’ latest rankings of the top 50 airports show an interesting range in how the busiest U.S. airports stack up when it comes to that performance.
Number one for mobile performance on RootMetrics’ latest list is Southwest Florida International Airport. It was followed by Sacramento International, Hartsfield-Jackson International Dallas Love Field and Boston-Logan International airports.
RootMetrics’ rankings are based on an average of all networks’ scores at a particular airport, weighted by the estimated national percentage of subscribers for each network. Given that Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world and sees more than 45 million passengers a year, its consistent finish in the top five is especially impressive. And thanks to improvements in speed and reliability from carriers in the surrounding metro area, Chicago O’Hare rose dramatically from number 34 to in the first half of 2015 to number seven.
But the report found that the most bustling airports do not always promise stellar data performance. LAX, the second-busiest airport in the country, followed a weak start to 2015 with an equally weak finish, ranking number 48 out of 50 for network performance.
Phoenix-Sky Harbor International, the 10th-busiest airport in the country, ranked only number 32 in performance, showing a modest drop from number 31 in its first round of 2015 testing.
RootMetrics brought together the results of testing at the five busiest U.S. airports, based on the FAA’s 2013 statistics, the latest available at the time: Hartsfield-Jackson , LAX, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver International.
According to those statistics, more than 164 million people passed through these airports in 2013. So the high passenger traffic at these airports puts pressure on mobile carriers to deliver reliable and consistent network coverage.
For a second year, the results again favor Verizon for network speed. Verizon outperformed the other three carriers in download speed at three of the five busiest airports: Hartsfield-Jackson, O’Hare, and DFW. Beating out Verizon at Denver International was AT&T, which boasted a median download speed of 30.5 Mbps to Verizon’s 11.5 Mbps. These were the fastest recorded download speeds at Denver International, with T-Mobile taking a big step back at 1.6 Mbps from a previous median download speed of 9.1 Mbps. Sprint also dropped from 4.7 Mbps to 0.8 Mbps in this round of tests.
But after investing heavily in the Chicago metro area, Sprint has increased its median download speed at O’Hare from 4.1 Mbps to 22.4 Mbps, the largest increase in median download speed recorded from any carrier at O'Hare. With this increase, Sprint outpaced T-Mobile and AT&T by a significant margin to close out 2015.
A look at cross-carrier comparisons shows just how widely mobile experience can vary from airport to airport.
This variation is caused in part by the unique challenges networks face when considering service options at airports. High volumes of passengers using even higher volumes of data lead to network congestion while restrictions on tower and antenna placement can make it difficult for carriers to add extra capacity.
But how providers handle the challenge in the busiest U.S. airports is noticeable. RootMetrics cited the huge difference in speed between Hartsfield-Jackson, which has consistently been a top performer in its network speed testing. The latest results again show fast speeds at Hartsfield-Jackson, with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all recording median download speeds of 26.2 Mbps or above.
On the other hand, results at LAX were markedly slower, with no carrier recording a median download speed faster than 2.7 Mbps.
The fastest median download speed at Hartsfield-Jackson was more than 15 times faster than that found at LAX.
Looking at the four mobile carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon -- RootMetric also provided individual summaries of each network’s performance across all 50 airports.
AT&T’s speed results were mixed. On the one hand, AT&T delivered fast speeds at several airports. Indeed, AT&T’s 50.5 Mbps median download speed at Chicago Midway was the fastest speed we found for any carrier at any airport. On the other hand, AT&T’s median download speed dropped below 5 Mbps at 18 of the 50 airports tested. AT&T continues to show steady improvement in airport testing, and the network recorded exceptional reliability results to close out 2015.
In the first half of 2015, Sprint didn’t win an Airport RootScore Award, but in the current round of testing, it continued the upward trend in reliability RootMetric saw in its previous report. In the first half of 2015, it connected to Sprint's network at least 97 percent of the time at 31 airports. In this test period, Sprint reached the mark of excellence for getting connected at 34 airports.
T-Mobile's total of 16 RootScore Awards outpaced AT&T by one, Sprint by 13, and trailed only Verizon’s tally of 25. The carrier’s fastest median download speed increased from 42.8 Mbps at Hartsfield-Jackson)to 48.7 Mbps at McCarran International in Las Vegas. But it also delivered markedly slow speeds at some of the busiest airports, including a median download speed of 1.6 Mbps at Denver International and 0.6 Mbps at LAX. T-Mobile improved its reliability compared to the previous test period, but the network recorded slow speeds at some well-traveled airports to close out the year.
As in the first half, Verizon once again led all carriers in the RootMetrics award tally, finishing first outright or tied for first at 25 airports. While AT&T recorded the fastest median download speed in this test period, Verizon still delivered outstanding speeds to close out 2015. Indeed, Verizon delivered median download speeds of 20 Mbps or faster at 17 airports, the highest total among all networks. Verizon delivered fast speeds and outstanding reliability in airport testing in the second half of 2015.