AT&T provided the most reliable streaming video service in Global Wireless Solutions’ recent nationwide drive tests of top carriers’ mobile networks. The testing company said that 98% of videos streamed over AT&T’s network were successfully completed, and that videos tested on AT&T only froze 0.82% of the time.

“AT&T performed best overall taking three of four category wins ahead of second place Verizon. T-Mobile came in third, despite clocking one category win, and Sprint came in last,” GWS said in its announcement of the results today.

AT&T touted its performance in a release noting the increase of video traffic on its network. "Video traffic now makes up over half of our mobile traffic. Mobile data traffic on AT&T’s national wireless network increased more than 250,000% from 2007 to 2017," AT&T's Vince Torres wrote in a release from the operator. "We’re engineering and designing for another 10X growth in mobile data volume over our network by 2020. In fact, in 2016 alone, video traffic grew over 75% and smartphones drove almost 75% of our data traffic. We expect video traffic growth to outpace overall data growth in 2020.

GWS’ tests are noteworthy considering the company collected its data throughout last year by driving 400,000 miles across all 50 U.S. states and all of the metropolitan areas in those states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The company said it collected and evaluated performance data from 4K YouTube video streams using Rohde & Schwarz Diversity Benchmarker II test equipment, Samsung Galaxy mobile devices, and its Mobistat data evaluation and reporting platform.

GWS’ methodology differs significantly from the likes of OpenSignal and other crowd-sourcing network measurement companies. OpenSignal’s data is obtained via an app that consumers download to their device. OpenSignal records the data from the app on consumers’ phones and derives its information that way.

“We felt what mattered most to consumers were the actual speeds and availability they experienced on their phones, not some abstract representation of network performance based on test equipment. Using cutting-edge crowdsourcing techniques and rigorous scientific analysis, we developed and improved a testing methodology that we are extremely proud of,” OpenSignal wrote of its methodology last year.

GWS’ tests are different, though, in that the company proactively obtains data from its own devices and testing equipment—a method that some analysts prefer over others. “With drive testing results more indicative of actual network behavior than any other methodology, engineers rely on it as the most scientific approach. Crowd sourced and customer survey data is of course important, insightful and should not be ignored by any means. However, when it comes to truly evaluating a network’s performance, I’d look first and foremost at what the drive tests reveal,” wrote Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner last year.

The firm said T-Mobile provided the fastest video loading time of 3.2 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than AT&T. It added that Verizon had a respectable showing by completing just under 98% of the videos streamed on its network.
On Sprint though, 8.5% of the videos streamed failed and 2% of the time they froze. Sprint’s loading time averaged 3.9 seconds.

GWS’ results are particularly important given the rise of vide on mobile networks. Indeed, AT&T continues to push its DirecTV Now offering by offering it at a discount to its unlimited wireless customers, while T-Mobile is offering a free Netflix account to its customers and Sprint is offering a free Hulu account to its customers.

“Mobile video streaming is due to drive a 7x increase in mobile data traffic by 2023,” added GWS’ CEO Paul Carter. “Today, YouTube already reaches more millennials (18-34 year olds) on mobile alone than any TV network.

It’s clear that video streaming is having and will continue to have a major impact on mobile operator networks - more and more customers expect to stream their favorite shows, videos, and other broadband content where ever they are—whether it’s commuting, waiting for your next appointment, or just taking a break while out and about.”