Some large U.S. carriers may be overstating the coverage on their maps.
A new FCC report (via Mike Dano) says that Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular misrepresented coverage on maps submitted to the agency. FCC drive tests showed that those carriers' provided the minimum download speed predicted by coverage maps just 62.3% of the time. Verizon performed the best in this test, achieving the minimum speed in 64.3% of the tests, T-Mobile achieved it in 63.2 percent of the tests, and U.S. Cellular achieved it in just 45.0% of tests.
The FCC also reports that it was unable to obtain any Verizon 4G LTE signal in 16.2% of its drive tests, nor was it able to get a T-Mobile 4G LTE signal in 21.3% of tests or a U.S. Cellular 4G LTE signal in 38.0% of tests, despite those carriers' maps reporting coverage in those areas.
Stationary tests showed that Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular failed to achieve sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in 20 of 42 locations tested.
The FCC's test measured network performance in 12 states across six drive test routes. There were 24,649 tests performed and nearly 10,000 miles driven. The FCC staff also conducted 5,916 stationary tests at 42 locations in nine states.
As for why it performed these tests, the U.S. carriers recently submitted coverage maps to the FCC as part of the process for the agency to determine areas eligible for support in the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) auction. Some parties raised concerns about the accuracy of these maps, and so based on those complaints and a own review of the record, FCC staff became concerned that Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular had overstated their coverage.
It's important for these coverage maps to be accurate because they're used to determine where the FCC should allocate funds to help improve coverage in areas that need it. If a map shows that there's good coverage in an area when their really isn't, then the coverage there may not get the improvement that it needs.
Neither Verizon, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular has responded to this report. It's unclear what, if any, steps the FCC will take to punish these carriers, but the FCC did make some recommendations on how the situation could be remedied. For example, the FCC suggested that carrier should be required to submit actual on-the-ground evidence of network performance to back up the model they used to generate their maps.