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Smaller cities continued their climb up the charts in RootMetrics’ latest mobile metro report, with only one city with a top ten population making the cut for top ten in performance.

According to the report for the second half of 2016, Indianapolis took top honors in terms of overall mobile performance, followed by Richmond, Va., Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis. But while those cities were the best in performance, they are far from the biggest in population. By number of residents, the winning cities ranked 32, 44, 24, 35, and 16, respectively.

In fact, only one city with a top ten population – Chicago – made it into Rootmetrics’ top 10 for mobile performance, coming in at number 8. Chicago’s former big city companion in the top ten from the first half of 2016, Atlanta, fell from number 3 to number 23 in the latest report thanks to declining reliability and call performance.

In Chicago in particular, the report indicated Verizon and AT&T narrowly took top honors for overall performance with scores of 98.2 and 98.0, respectively. Those carriers narrowly beat out Sprint, which took third place with a score of 97.6, and T-Mobile, which was farther behind with a score of 95.2.

The city has been a hotbed for carrier competition. AT&T, which in the first half of 2016 nabbed only two winning marks (in ties for overall and text performance), this time around locked in four wins, in ties for overall performance, network reliability, and call and text performance. And Verizon managed to nab one extra tied win in network reliability to lock in tied wins across all categories. But Sprint and T-Mobile (which secured three and one tied win in Chicago, respectively) are definitely not ignoring the Windy City.

Back in September, Sprint said it had selected Chicago as one of two initial cities where it would begin its deployment of three-carrier aggregation. And just this week T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said the Un-carrier is planning to light up new spectrum in Chicago next quarter. That means already tight margins for winners in the metro are likely to get even slimmer going forward.

"There is already a healthy competition in the Chicago market for mobile performance, and we have seen solid improvements – even just looking at the results from the first half of 2016 to the second half," Rootmetrics Director Annette Hamilton observed. "Take, for instance, how much data speeds have improved across all carriers. The slowest median download speed in the first half of 2016 was 9.9 Mbps (on T-Mobile). That improved to 12.6 Mbps in the second half (also T-Mobile). Meanwhile, the fastest median download speed in the first half was 24.7 Mbps (Verizon); that jumped to 34.9 Mbps in the second half (also Verizon). Even the slowest median download speed in the second half is plenty fast for most people to complete typical mobile tasks, which is great news for consumers in Chicago. We anticipate carriers will continue to make improvements in the Chicago metro area, making it a hotbed for changes of the best kind."

On a wider scale, the report indicated major metros like New York (ranked 66 in performance) and Los Angeles (ranked 49), still have plenty of room for improvement. But the worst places to be for mobile service were Omaha, Neb., and Worcester, Mass., as well as perennial bottom-dweller Hudson Valley, N.Y.

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