Can you hear me? If you often ask that question while talking on your cell phone in the Dayton area, you’re not alone.
Dayton ranks poorly among U.S. metropolitan areas in mobile network performance, although the city does well in the latest-generation LTE data speed standard, according to a widely used test standard by RootMetrics.
Dayton ranks 94th among the largest 125 U.S. metro areas and the lowest in Ohio in terms of mobile coverage, speed and reliability, according to the RootMetrics ranking.
The rankings are important because mobile network carriers use it to market their services if they do well in a particular city or, often, make changes or invest in new infrastructure investments if they don’t, said Stu Johnson, interim executive director of ConnectOhio, an organization that advocates for greater broadband access and participation.
“This report is very, very critical,” Johnson said.
As of February, approximately 64 percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, a number that has grown from 35 percent since 2011, according to ConnectOhio.
RootMetrics employees drive around to test coverage, said Annette Hamilton, a RootMetrics director.
In Dayton’s case, RootMetrics employees drove 1,142 miles and tested coverage at 24 indoor locations — sites the report did not identify. In all, 14,788 tests were conducted in Dayton.
At No. 94 of 125 tested cities, Dayton ranked better than some far larger cities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tucson, Ariz.
But Dayton’s tested mobile performance was lower than Youngstown (86), Toledo (60), Cincinnati (46), Akron (42), Cleveland (36) and Columbus (12). Columbus was the highest rank city in Ohio.
The top cities in the nation for mobile performance, accordign to RootMetrics are Lansing, Mich., Indianapolis, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Chicago.
Factors affecting a city’s performance include geography, age of infrastructure and how many mobile users a community has, Hamilton said.
But Dayton did well in LTE (Long-Term Evolution) or sometimes refered to as 4G LTE infrastructure, she added. LTE is the fastest connection available for wireless networks.
“If you look at the percentage of LTE in a market … You have LTE above 99 percent across all the carriers,” Hamilton said. “So that’s means they have invested in Dayton, and Dayton is well positioned to perform well.”
In terms of network speed in Dayton, Verizon ranked highest, followed by T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, in that order.
In terms of “overall performance,” RootMetrics ranked the carriers in Dayton this way: Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T.
A spokeswoman for AT&T, Holly Hollingsworth, said her company has invested more than $100 million in its Dayton-area networks in 2013-2015, making more than 80 upgrades specifically to wireless network in Montgomery County in 2015.
A spokesman for Verizon, Steve Van Dinter, said his company made more than $11 billion in investments nationally in 2015.
“We’ve been consistently ranked as the No. 1 provider in Dayton, and are proud of the speed, reliability and coverage we provide our customers there,” Van Dinter said in an email.
Johnson’s organization is more concerned with broadband and Internet access. But he agreed that mobile access matters, too.
Twenty percent of Americans lack broadband access and find themselves left in the “digital darkness,” he said.
“Too often, everyone has Internet access available at their house or at their job, their business or at their school,” Johnson said. “And too often we assume that access is adequate. And too often we assume it’s affordable.”
If for example, someone wants to apply for a job or other benefits at the OhioMeansJobs web site, that will require Internet access, he said.
“In reality, maybe you live in Monroe County, where 40 percent of the population doesn’t have Internet access,” he said. “And consequently, you don’t own a computer because you don’t have Internet access.”