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Mobile network data performance at the nation’s busiest airports

When you’re heading to the airport, you probably have a checklist of things you absolutely must have with you. For most of us, this might include luggage, ID, wallet, plane tickets, and our mobile phone. But while you might be able to go without luggage in a pinch, and you might not even need paper tickets, you’re not going anywhere without your phone.

Here at RootMetrics, we know how fundamental your phone has become at the airport. And we know that data tasks—like checking your email or posting on social media—are especially important to help you get where you’re going and to help you survive all the waiting until you get there. That’s why we test the data performance of the four major mobile networks at the 50 busiest airports in the US twice a year.

We’ve brought together our testing results from the second half of 2014 to highlight two important elements in your mobile experience: How well individual networks perform at airports, and how airports compare with each other in general performance.

Airport testing

At each airport, we test data performance, including internet browsing, upload and download speeds, and email, at the 50 airports with the most traffic, according to Federal Aviation Administration enplanement figures. The airports tested in the second half of 2014 were selected based on FAA numbers from 2012, the most recent full year available before testing began.

We distill the results of our testing into RootScores for each network that can give you a gauge of network performance at a glance. Networks with the highest RootScores in a particular airport are awarded a first-place RootScore Award.

2H 2014 Highlights

31

Most first-place Airport RootScore Awards: Verizon

No. 1

Airport in RootMetrics performance ranking: Memphis International Airport

101.2 Mbps

Fastest median download speed: Verizon, Midway International Airport (Chicago)

50

Number of US airports tested

45,308,407

Annual passenger numbers at the busiest airport in the US: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Airport performance across networks

To give you a sense of which networks excelled during our airport testing, we’ve included a tally of RootScore Awards, along with a breakdown of how often each network hit key reliability and speed thresholds.

Reliability and speed are the fundamental elements of a good mobile experience. After all, if you can’t reliably connect to the network and complete your tasks, you won’t be able to do what you want to do with your phone at all. And trying to get things done without the speed you need is going to be a frustrating experience.

In this report, we use web/app access rates and task success rates as indicators of network reliability. Access rates show how often we were able to connect to a network during web/app testing, while task success rates show how often we were able to complete a web/app task. For this report, we show the number of airports where each carrier reached a rate of 97% or above for each reliability metric. Perfect reliability would, of course, be great, but isn’t realistic. A threshold of 97% success is a high bar and reflects performance that would pose little to no noticeable disruptions to everyday activity.

In order to indicate speeds in this report, we look at median download and upload speeds. We use a 20 Mbps threshold to indicate lightning-fast download speeds; as our speed chart shows, at 20 Mbps, your everyday tasks are accomplished almost instantaneously. For upload speeds, which are generally slower, we use a 10 Mbps threshold to indicate excellence.

AT&T

2014 AT&T RootScore Awards tally

10

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, second half 2014

11

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, first half 2014

AT&T fell behind T-Mobile in the tally of Airport RootScore Awards, with its median upload speed and web/app task success rate results possible factors. However, AT&T did quite well in download speeds, second only to Verizon in number of airports with median download speeds of at least 20 Mbps. And AT&T was also second only to Verizon in the number of airports with web/app access success rates of 97% or above. AT&T earned its highest Airport RootScore, 99.5, at Memphis International Airport.

Sprint

2014 Sprint RootScore Awards tally

1

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, second half 2014

0

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, first half 2014

Sprint was a distant fourth in number of first-place Airport RootScore Awards. This is reflected in the fact that it had the lowest number of airports with web/app access and task success rates above 97% and only one airport each with median download speeds above 20 Mbps or median upload speeds above 10 Mbps.

Sprint’s highest Airport RootScore of 99.5 was earned at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, winning Sprint a RootScore Award at the airport level for the first time. O’Hare, one of the busiest airports in the US, is a big first win for Sprint. This could be a sign of improvements and upgrades taking hold, similar to Sprint’s story in our national report on metro results for the second half of 2014.

T-Mobile

2014 T-Mobile RootScore Awards tally

17

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, second half 2014

20

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, first half 2014

Second only to Verizon in our award tally, T-Mobile offered excellent data performance at many of the airports we tested. T-Mobile beat all other networks in number of airports with task success rates of 97% or above*. T-Mobile also did well in median upload speeds, coming in second only to Verizon in number of airports with median upload speeds of 10 Mbps or more. However, it came in third in number of airports with task access rates at the 97% threshold as well as the number of airports with median download speeds of 20 Mbps or more*.

T-Mobile’s top RootScore, 98.8, was earned at Memphis International Airport, which was also the top airport overall in our composite rankings.

*March 23, 2015 – In a previous version of the report, T-Mobile’s standings in web/app task success rates and web/app access success rates were transposed. We regret the error.

Verizon

2014 Verizon RootScore Awards tally

31

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, second half 2014

30

Total Airport RootScore Awards, including wins and ties, first half 2014

Verizon won the most first-place Airport RootScore Awards of any network by far in the second half of 2014, continuing the winning streak it showed in our recent national, state, and metro mobile performance results. Verizon’s airport wins were fueled by excellent reliability and speed: Verizon fell below 97% in web/app access success at only 2 airports and below 97% in web/app task success at only 5 airports. It had by far the most airports with median download speeds of 20 Mbps or higher and median upload speeds of 10 Mbps.

Verizon also deserves a special callout for its top median download speed at any airport, a truly impressive 101.2 Mbps at Chicago’s Midway International Airport. That’s nearly three times as fast as the highest median download speed we recorded at any of our metros in 2014 or 2015 to date: Verizon’s 35.8 Mbps in Atlanta, GA, recorded in the first half of 2015.

Midway was also where Verizon recorded its second-highest Airport RootScore, at 99.7. Verizon’s best performance, however, was at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, where it recorded a stellar RootScore of 99.9, the highest RootScore we saw at any airport in the second half of 2014.

Ranking airport performance

While your network is the biggest factor in the quality of your mobile experience, we’ve all noticed different levels of performance at different airports.

Want to check in on social media and let your friends know that you’re off to an exotic destination? That’s going to be easier to accomplish at some airports than others. Airports create unique challenges for mobile network performance, and elements such as building materials and network infrastructure types can result in very different mobile network experiences.

In order to get an overall picture of performance at each of the 50 airports that we test, we’ve taken the individual network RootScores from the second half of 2014 and created weighted composite scores* that factor in all network results for each airport. Then we’ve ranked the airports according to those scores. In the table below, you can see how all 50 airports rank.

You can also see each airport’s ranking for the first half of 2014 in parentheses next to the current ranking. Comparing the two paints a picture of airport performance in flux as networks improve and airport mobile use changes.

Some changes worth noting:

Memphis International Airport moved to No. 1 in the latest rankings from No. 4 last time, trading positions with Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, FL, which slipped from No. 1 to No. 4 on the latest list. Memphis’s rise was no doubt helped by the fact that all four networks had faster speeds at Memphis International in our latest round of testing than last time.

Dallas Love Field, meanwhile, moved all the way up to No. 5 in the latest rankings from No. 40 last time, perhaps aided by vast improvement in Sprint’s speeds.

Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., fell from No. 7 last time to No. 29 this time. All four networks saw speed decreases at the airport compared to our previous testing.

Busiest US airports

In the table below, we’ve included the latest available passenger traffic numbers for each airport so you can see just how busy they are. If you do a lot of traveling, chances are you will be heading through some of the busiest US hubs sooner or later. These big airports face even more potential congestion issues due to higher traffic.

That makes the high performance ranking of Chicago’s O’Hare and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airports that much more impressive. O’Hare was third in our performance ranking and Hartsfield Jackson was seventh despite being the third and first, respectively, busiest airports in the US, according to the 2013 Federal Aviation Administration data.

On the other hand, Los Angeles International Airport, which ranks No. 2 in traffic, was far down on our list, landing at No. 42 out of the 50 airports in performance. Dallas-Fort Worth International, the fourth busiest US airport, ranked at No. 37, and Denver International, No. 5 in terms of traffic, came in at No. 39.

US airport rankings

Check out the table below to see how all 50 US airports stack up against each other across networks, based on composite weighted scores* for the second half of 2014.

You can also select individual networks to see which airports had the highest RootScores for each. Keep in mind that these results are designed to show how cities rank for a specific carrier. Although a given network may have recorded its own highest score at a given airport, that does not necessarily mean that the network was the highest-scoring at that airport.

For more details about the performance of all networks at each airport, see our individual Airport RootScore Reports.

Second half 2014 performance rank
(First half 2014)
Weighted
Composite score
Airport
Metro
RootScore Award Winner Annual Passengers
(FAA 2013 data)
1 (4) 98.4 Memphis International (MEM)
Memphis, TN
AT&T 2,301,003
2 (10) 96.6 Pittsburgh International (PIT)
Pittsburgh, PA
Verizon 3,812,460
3 (2) 96.6 O’Hare International (ORD)
Chicago, IL
Sprint 32,317,835
4 (1) 96.5 Southwest Florida International (RSW)
Fort Myers, FL
Verizon 3,788,870
5 (40) 96.3 Dallas Love Field (DAL)
Dallas, TX
AT&T 4,023,779
6 (21) 96.2 Cleveland-Hopkins International (CLE)
Cleveland, OH
Verizon T-Mobile 4,375,448
7 (11) 96.1 Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International (ATL)
Atlanta, GA
Verizon T-Mobile AT&T 45,308,407
8 (5) 96.0 General Mitchell International (MKE)
Milwaukee, WI
Verizon 3,214,811
9 (6) 95.3 Indianapolis International (IND)
Indianpolis, IN
Verizon 3,535,015
10 (3) 95.2 John Wayne -Orange County (SNA)
Los Angeles, CA
Verizon 4,540,628
11 (22) 95.0 Orlando International (MCO)
Orlando, FL
Verizon 16,884,524
12 (32) 94.7 Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS)
Austin, TX
AT&T 4,900,959
13 (17) 94.6 Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)
Seattle, WA
Verizon 16,690,295
14 (20) 94.4 LaGuardia (LGA)
New York City and Tri-State Area
Verizon 13,372,269
15 (23) 94.4 Portland International (PDX)
Portland, OR
Verizon 7,452,603
16 (16) 94.2 Sacramento International (SMF)
Sacramento, CA
AT&T 4,255,145
17 (49) 93.9 Minneapolis-St. Paul International /Wold-Chamberlain (MSP)
Minneapolis, MN
T-Mobile 16,280,835
18 (15) 93.6 Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International (FLL)
Miami, FL
Verizon 11,538,140
19 (9) 93.0 Port Columbus International (CMH)
Columbus, OH
Verizon T-Mobile 3,063,822
20 (13) 92.9 Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI)
Baltimore, MD
Verizon 11,132,731
21 (48) 92.8 Newark Liberty International (EWR)
New York City and Tri-State Area
T-Mobile 17,546,506
22 (12) 92.6 Midway International (MDW)
Chicago, IL
Verizon 9,915,646
23 (24) 92.5 Charlotte/Douglas International (CLT)
Charlottte, NC
Verizon 21,346,601
24 (33) 92.3 Salt Lake City International (SLC)
Salt Lake City, UT
Verizon 9,668,048
25 (38) 92.3 George Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
Houston, TX
T-Mobile AT&T 18,952,840
26 (8) 92.3 McCarran International (LAS)
Las Vegas, NV
Verizon 19,946,179
27 (18) 92.2 Washington Dulles International (IAD)
Washington, DC
Verizon 10,570,993
28 (35) 91.7 William P. Hobby (HOU)
Houston, TX
Verizon 5,377,050
29 (7) 91.3 Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA)
Washington, DC
T-Mobile AT&T 9,838,034
30 (27) 91.2 Logan International (BOS)
Boston, MA
Verizon 14,810,153
31 (28) 90.5 San Jose International (SJC)
San Jose, CA
Verizon 4,315,839
32 (30) 89.9 Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW)
Detroit, MI
AT&T 15,683,523
33 (25) 89.8 Tampa International (TPA)
Tampa, FL
T-Mobile 8,267,752
34 (41) 89.6 John F. Kennedy International (JFK)
New York City and Tri-State Area
AT&T 25,036,358
35 (39) 89.5 Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX)
Phoenix, AZ
T-Mobile Verizon 19,525,109
36 (19) 89.1 Kansas City International (MCI)
Kansas City, MO
Verizon T-Mobile 4,836,221
37 (26) 88.5 Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)
Dallas, TX
Verizon 29,038,128
38 (37) 88.3 Metropolitan Oakland International (OAK)
San Francisco, CA
T-Mobile 4,770,716
39 (36) 87.8 Denver International (DEN)
Denver, CO
T-Mobile 25,496,885
40 (14) 87.8 Raleigh-Durham International (RDU)
Raleigh, NC
Verizon 4,482,016
41 (46) 87.2 Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY)
New Orleans, LA
Verizon 4,576,539
42 (31) 87.2 Los Angeles International (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA
Verizon 32,425,892
43 (44) 86.9 Lambert-St. Louis International (STL)
St. Louis, MO
Verizon T-Mobile 6,216,104
44 (43) 86.5 San Antonio International (SAT)
San Antonio, TX
T-Mobile 4,005,874
45 (42) 85.5 San Francisco International (SFO)
San Francisco, CA
Verizon 21,704,626
46 (45) 85.2 Nashville International (BNA)
Nashville, TN
T-Mobile 5,050,989
47 (29) 84.7 Miami International (MIA)
Miami, FL
Verizon 19,420,089
48 (47) 84.1 Philadelphia International (PHL)
Philadelphia, PA
AT&T 14,727,945
49 (34) 80.3 Honolulu International (HNL)
Honolulu, HI
T-Mobile 9,466,995
50 (50) 69.9 San Diego International (SAN)
San Diego, CA
T-Mobile 8,878,772

*Composite scores are based on an average of all networks’ RootScores at a particular airport, weighted by the estimated national percentage of subscribers on a given network. This means that if one network has a higher share of subscribers than another, that network’s scores are weighted more heavily to ensure that the total score is representative of the current mobile landscape. Users may generally get better performance at the airports that are ranked higher, although performance may vary by individual network.

Making more informed mobile decisions

Airport RootScore Reports are part of a broader, complementary series of reports and tools that we offer to help you make more informed mobile decisions.

We recently released our US Mobile Network Performance Review to show the big picture of how networks compared in the second half of 2014, and our RootScore Reports offer individual network performance results for the US, states, and cities.

 

Author: Ben Oaks

Ben is a 911 Telecomunicator and a tech nut. Ben was born and raised in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. He reviews Verizon Wireless products for Techburgh.com and is the owner of Cerebral-Overload.com. His hope is to bring you the reviews you want to give you an informed decision on products you may be looking into.