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Verizon still leads the pack in terms of LTE deployments, according to Root Metrics.

The big U.S. wireless carriers are all fighting over who has the fastest LTE network, touting the speeds that can be obtained over the next-generation networking technology.

But who is out in front when it comes to LTE?

4glte11A new report out today tries to answer that question, and the results may surprise you. AT&T, which has been touting the country’s largest 4G network, came out on top in terms of speeds, according to the new Root Metrics LTE report.

“At 18.6 Mbps, AT&T easily offered the fastest pure LTE download speed of any carrier, outpacing Verizon’s mark of 14.3 Mbps for LTE-only download. AT&T also offered outstanding speed in our LTE-only upload testing, recording an average of 9.0 Mbps,” the report said.

Now, here’s the catch. While AT&T performed well in the Root Metrics’ tests, it’s still lagging rival Verizon when it comes to LTE deployments. The super-fast network was only available in 47 of the 77 markets that Root Metrics tested in, compared to all 77 for Verizon. (Note: Root conducted their tests at the end of 2012, and AT&T has said that they will continue to roll out new LTE markets throughout 2013).

In fact, the authors of the report singled out Verizon’s comprehensive network (something I experienced first-hand while traveling on the Bremerton ferry this weekend. A friend accessed Verizon LTE on the vessel, while I didn’t have any service for a bit via AT&T).

Verizon’s biggest advantage is the comprehensiveness of its LTE network. Indeed, it’s hard to overstate the size of Verizon’s LTE footprint. Across all 77 markets, we accessed their LTE network more than 90% of the time. They easily offer the most LTE coverage of any network we have tested. This advantage holds whether we look at the total number of markets covered in our tests, or when we compare the likelihood of accessing LTE within markets. While fast, Verizon’s LTE speeds slightly trail those of AT&T.

The country’s other top carriers — Sprint and T-Mobile — also are well behind when it comes to LTE. Sprint’s LTE network, which averaged 10.3 Mbps download speeds, was available in only five markets at the time of the tests. T-Mobile had not yet deployed a LTE network, boasting average download speeds of 7.3 Mbps via their HSPA+42 networks.

The authors of the report noted:

“T-Mobile has a very fast non-LTE foundation and the addition of LTE service in 2013 could make T-Mobile an even more attractive option. They certainly shouldn’t be ignored.”

Full report here.

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