As mobile bloggers, watching national carriers with revenue in the billions snip at each other like gossiping high school students is the closest thing we have to a spectator sport. Between Sprint hiring Verizon's old spokesman, T-Mobile continuing its cloying David-versus-Goliath narrative, and Verizon using textbook straw man attacks against both of them in all those Jaime Foxx spots, we can hardly make the popcorn fast enough.

Every couple of months or so, T-Mobile CEO John Legere emerges from his fortress of solitude to directly address mobile consumers with a rant against his competitors. This time he's addressing specific points from Verizon's latest ad campaign. If you have a few minutes you can check it out below...

...or just skip to the somewhat cringe-inducing commercial that you'll be seeing at every NFL time out for the next few weeks.

But since Legere is directly accusing his competition of "outright lies" and saying "I'm calling bullshit," it behooves us to break down each one of his claims. Let's get started.

1. "They completely lost the network advantage that they built their whole brand on."

False. While T-Mobile's coverage is expanding along with just about every mobile carrier in the United States, Verizon and AT&T still offer much better coverage over a wider physical stretch of the country. Let's take a look at the comparative coverage maps: Verizon above, T-Mobile below. As you can see, the self-reported maps from both carriers are pretty similar, and while Verizon claims large stretches of the western part of the country that T-Mobile doesn't, the claim that Verizon "lost its network advantage" at least sounds plausible.

verizon us

t-mo us

 

But wait a minute: the Verizon map explicitly says that all that red coverage area is 4G LTE, whereas T-Mobile merely says "coverage," offering no distinction between LTE data, 3G, or 2G. Let's take a look at some specific locations for a more nuanced breakdown of that advantage claim.

Here's the metropolitan Dallas Fort-Worth area. Seven million people live here, but it's also one of the most physically widespread urban zones in the country - a perfect testing ground for city coverage. Verizon claims ubiquitous 4G coverage over the entire urban area, out into the smaller towns and rural area in every direction. You have to go more than a hundred miles, and well away from the bigger interstates and highways, to find coverage gaps. Over the same area T-Mobile claims 4G across the urban zones, but things get a little spottier on the edges of the map. One of those white spots is where my parents live, by the way... and they don't have T-Mobile for pretty much that reason.

verizon dfw

tmo dfw

Let's try a smaller urban area, with less of an established customer base and less reason for a big company to focus on it. Here's Salinas, California, about ninety minutes outside of the San Francisco Bay urban zone. Once again, Verizon claims more or less perfect signal in the city and surrounding countryside - you have to go way up into the mountains (and far away from any highways or small towns) to lose LTE. On T-Mobile's map, we see that most of the city of Salinas is provided with either "excellent" or "good" signal, but considerable chunks of it only get "fair" signal, which T-Mobile says works well outdoors but only sometimes indoors. Once you leave the city limits in any direction except on Highway 101, you almost immediately drop to ""fair" signal everywhere... and I can personally report substantial drops in the area.

verizon salinas

t-mo salinas

Now for the real test of "network advantage:" an isolated rural town. I've chosen Cadwell, Georgia, a tiny town of only 329 people. It's not near any major intestates or highways - residents have to drive 20 miles into the city of Dublin if they want to visit Starbucks. That said, it's not exactly the wild and untamed wilderness. Urban areas and towns are reachable within half an hour in every direction, so you'd expect at least some cell coverage here. Verizon blankets the town and all of the surrounding area with LTE, with only a few patches of 3G and one area of no coverage. T-Mobile coverage is spotty across the entire area, not even offering reliable 2G. it's not until you reach Interstate 16 that things start to get comfortable.

georgia

t-mo cadwell ga

As always, your mileage may vary when it comes to cell coverage. But to say that Verizon has "lost its advantage" (followed by "Gone! Poof!") is pretty dubious, especially if you're talking about anyone who's outside of a major metropolitan area.

2. "We now cover over 99% of the people Verizon covers."

Unclear. Sprint likes to use this metric too, perhaps because it's hard to prove. And while yes, T-Mobile's urban coverage is great, I've already demonstrated that things get hairy the moment you get outside the city limits. Perhaps T-Mobile covers 99% of the homes and businesses that Verizon covers... which is good, if you never go anywhere except home and work. According to the FCC, Verizon covered 97.4% of the US population with wireless signal in December of 2015, compared to 94.6% of the population for T-Mobile (see FCC section below). T-Mobile's LTE coverage in rural land is only 73.3%, versus 92.2% for Verizon.

3. "We've had the fastest LTE network like, forever!"

True, and also false, and mostly useless. Terms like "fastest," "most reliable," "most dependable," and "most advanced" are pretty useless from a consumer standpoint - they're usually cherry-picked from industry studies, some of which are paid for by mobile companies themselves. Every network uses this kind of hyperbole, and it's equally meaningless. Legere doesn't mention a specific metric here, but on T-Mobile's website they cite the OpenSignal network report from August 2016, which does indeed put T-Mobile at slightly faster than Verizon nationwide. A similar study by RootMetrics (the one Jaime Foxx quotes in those commercials) gives Verizon the overwhelming lead in reliability, speed, data coverage, and call quality for the first half of 2016.

root metrics

4. "Maybe it was their Q3 financial results last month, when they announced that tens of thousands of post-paid customers had bolted - yup, they LOST post-paid phone customers!"

Mostly true. According to Verizon's quarterly financial disclosure, the company added 442,000 post-paid connections. That figure is down from the previous quarter, and much less than the same timeframe last year (when it added 1.29 million new customers). But retail connections are steady and wireless operating revenue has gone from 23 billion dollars last year to 22.1 billion this year - a slight drop that's hardly the dramatic exodus Legere is presenting. "Tens of thousands" of moving customers is pretty standard for the industry, and hardly a drop in the bucket of Verizon's 36 million post-paid accounts (about 40% of the nationwide market for post-paid).

5. "Did you think we wouldn't call bullshit on this whopper - 'T-Mobile doesn't offer unlimited high-speed data.' ...That's just a straight-up bald-faced lie."

unlimited

False. T-Mobile's Unlimited One plan, which is currently the only offering for new post-paid customers, limits the top 3% of data users (at around 28GB) to reduced speeds during undefined "congestion time" until the end of the billing cycle. So no, T-Mobile doesn't offer unlimited high-speed data - if you use enough of it, eventually you will be limited. Other carriers have similar provisions, and Verizon doesn't offer unlimited at all, but saying that Verizon is lying is, well, lying. That's probably why it's being said in a rambling rant rather than a false advertising lawsuit. The Unlimited One plan has several other limits in place as well, which is what the ad was actually talking about.

6. "...Verizon will only let you buy unlimited data in 30 or 60 minute chunks... if you want a full month of unlimited data from Verizon, 30 minutes at a time, it could cost you $2,880 per person."

True. Verizon's limited-use PopData passes are (as I said in a previous carrier breakdown) all kinds of bullshit. Assuming a 30-day month, and assuming you were stupid enough to pay $2 for 30 minutes of unlimited data all month long without ever stopping (or sleeping), it would cost $2,880. While we're throwing around ridiculous figures, a 31-day month would be $2,976. The more logical (but still more or less impossible) hour-by-hour rate would be $2,160/$2,232, not including the original data plan and other charges. 

7. "Another ad claims, 'No surprise overages on Verizon.' Didn't Verizon just see a massive spike in complaints to government agencies about overages, in the thousands?"

Mostly true. Again, Legere didn't cite specific sources, but the FCC is currently reviewing customer complaints against Verizon for unexplained rises in data usage and charges. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the total number of wireless billing complaints to the FCC in September (from all carriers) was over 2,500, more than triple the same time period of last year. A later report said that the dramatic increases in data charges - sometimes from customers with five to ten times their normal usage and hundreds of dollars in charges - may have been from data recording errors. I should also point out that T-Mobile is no stranger to heat from the FCC.

8. "But the ads I mentioned don't even start to cover their other bullshit. Like 'Verizon's got the only next-gen network.'"

Unclear. Yeah, this is corporate double-talk. Like "the fastest LTE network."

9. "Okay, how 'bout this one: Google Pixel, only on Verizon. Anyone can tell you this is 100% false. The Pixel is unlocked and works great on T-Mobile, without any limits."

Sort of true. Verizon is the only retail partner for Google's Pixel phones, and the only carrier to offer it directly to consumers. However, the Pixel and Pixel XL are unlocked (even the ones sold by Verizon) and customers can buy directly from Google to use on any domestic carrier. (Currently T-Mobile is offering steep discounts to any Pixel owners willing to switch.) This is more of a corporate partnership than an actual quantitative claim.

Note that Verizon isn't the only one complicit in this claim - Google shares some blame for the confusing situation. This YouTube version of the "Just the Two of Us" Pixel ad above says it's a "Phone by Google," with no mention of Verizon. But the commercial that actually airs on television says "only on Verizon," just like the carrier's own ads - see below.

10. "Finally there's this blatant lie - 'T-Mobile hasn't won any awards.' I guess they're not counting our network being awarded number one fastest network by Ookla, OpenSignal, the FCC, and Twin Prime."

True. Ookla currently lists T-Mobile as the fastest mobile network with an average of 19.62Mbps down in aggregated tests. T-Mobile beat Verizon for speed in OpenSignal's latest report, with a slight edge of 16.28Mbps vs 15.94Mbps. Twin Prime gives T-Mobile the overall win for quality and performance as well as a slight edge in LTE speed over Verizon in its report from the first half of this year. If you count these as "awards," and in context with the RootMetrics report you should, then Legere is on solid ground.

fcc

The FCC doesn't offer any "awards" - it's a regulatory agency, not a consumer reporting bureau. But among reports on things like capital expenditures per customer or number of counties with one, two, three, or more providers, the FCC does say that T-Mobile has the fastest LTE download and upload speed at 19.51Mbps (page 79 of this PDF). However, this report relied on user-submitted data from the FCC Speed Test app, available on iOS and Android, and may be affected by other metrics like user app engagement. In the same report, T-Mobile was well behind Verizon in coverage of percentage of the US population, and percentage of road miles as of December 2016 (page 67). The FCC cites other data reports in its findings, including Ookla and OpenSignal, plus CalSPEED, where T-Mobile lost to both Verizon and AT&T.

In the Jaime Foxx commercials, Foxx asks his carrier doppelgangers, "What national awards have you won?," after which they reply "none." So yeah, that's a pretty damning straw man argument. Interestingly, that particular ad is no longer up on Verizon's official YouTube channel, but it's been copied here.

Conclusion: mostly true

Of ten claims made by Legere in a 4.5-minute video, two were incontrovertibly true, three were mostly true, three were unclear or meaningless, and two were false. As far as corporate hit pieces go, it's alright. But always remember: whatever a carrier is telling you is always motivated by selling you service and hardware, not out of any altruistic drive, "uncarrier" or otherwise. They don't want anything except your money, and you don't owe them anything except your scrutiny.