Mobile carriers have spent billions to expand the reach of their 4G networks, but the gains aren't spreading evenly across the country.
Surveys by network rater Rootmetrics found starkly varying conditions in different metropolitan areas, as carriers' investments didn't always match the growth of usage in some places. In its latest rankings, some of the largest cities in the country—including Chicago, Atlanta, and New York—saw their ratings drop.
Rootmetrics sends professional surveyors driving through 125 cities to test mobile networks on overall reliability and speed, as well as separate measures of call, text, and data quality. The firm rates the big four carriers—AT&T (t, -1.02%), Verizon (vz, -0.90%), T-Mobile (tmus, +1.28%), and Sprint (s, -0.12%)—in a separate report. Verizon came out on top most recently.
For the second half of 2016, the top five cities ranked by overall network quality were all in the center of the country away from the coasts. Indianapolis garnered the top spot, thanks to strong overall speed and data networking performance. Number two-ranked Richmond earned its place with strong reliability and calling ratings. Cleveland was third, also with strong speed and data performance, while Columbus was fourth with steady scores across all categories. Minneapolis rounded out the top five.
Among the five bottom dwellers, Omaha was ranked last out of all 125 metro areas, Rootmetrics said. Omaha residents received the worst mobile performance in the country, with the city ranking dead last in every category tested. A particularly high rate of blocked calls was the city's biggest issue. It was the third straight survey where Omaha ranked last or second to last.
Just slightly better, Worcester's mobile networks ranked second last in the survey, with nearby Springfield, Mass., ranking fourth worst. In between, Santa Rosa, Calif., ranked third worst. And the final member of the bottom dwelling five was the Hudson Valley, N.Y. region.
Still, for residents of the area north of New York City, performance improved slightly from previous surveys, Rootmetrics noted. "Compared to the previous round of testing, consumers in Hudson Valley did enjoy a better mobile experience in the second half of 2016, with higher composite scores in all five performance categories," the testing firm wrote.
Among the five largest cities by population, New York ranked 66th in overall mobile performance, Los Angeles was 49th, Miami was 89th, and Philadelphia was 32nd. Only residents of Chicago, which ranked 8th overall, made the top 10 of the rankings.