Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has built its marketing around its dominance of the twice-yearly Rootmetrics Mobile Performance report. The carrier has been the top performer nationally for nine consecutive reporting periods, and it won or shared the top place in every category covered by the report.

"Verizon's performance in our national testing was once again outstanding and far stronger than that of any other carrier," wrote RootMetrics' Dave Andersen. In addition to winning the RootScore Award for overall performance, Verizon also won United States RootScore Awards outright in the categories of network reliability, network speed, data performance, and call performance. Verizon shared the Text RootScore Award with AT&T (NYSE:T) and Sprint (NYSE:S).

It's a near-clean sweep for Verizon, which gives the company continued fuel for its marketing fire. The results, however, are not without their detractors, as T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) CEO John Legere has repeatedly taken issue with the RootMetrics report.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere

T-Mobile's CEO has been an outspoken critic of the RootMetrics report. Image source: T-Mobile.

A look at the controversy

It's important to note that RootMetrics has publicly stood by its methods and has proclaimed its independence.

T-Mobile, which takes first place honors in a second well-regarded report from OpenSignal, disputes the validity of the RootMetrics report. Legere has said that it's not an independent report, claiming that rival carriers pay RootMetrics millions.

That's a claim the research firm has vehemently denied, saying, "we're dedicated to remaining completely and steadfastly independent when it comes to our methodology for testing and reporting mobile performance," in a 2016 email to Motley Fool. The company also noted that it self-funds its own reports.

A deeper dive into the new report

While T-Mobile is not likely to make a commercial out of RootMetrics findings, the company actually improved on the metro level. That's important, since the report says "metro-level testing provides the strongest gauge of network performance."

  • Verizon took 601 awards, down from the 617 awards earned in the 1st half of 2017
  • AT&T earned 365 awards, a drop from the carrier's 396 awards during the last testing period
  • T-Mobile nabbed 301 awards, a jump from its previous 271 awards
  • Sprint won 147 awards, a decrease from the 211 the carrier earned in the previous testing period

Verizon still dominates on the metro level, but T-Mobile is gaining on AT&T for second place. That suggests that the carrier has strong service in many markets, but some holes in its coverage map.

What does this mean for consumers?

In many ways, all of these reports should be viewed skeptically. That's not because RootMetrics or OpenSignal has faulty tests, it's that no method of testing can account for each person's specific usage pattern. Wireless carriers, no matter what the reports say, are a true example of a situation where your results may vary.

Where you live, how much and where you travel to, and even what kind of phone you use impact how your carrier performs. For most people, any of the four are probably good enough (which is a point Sprint makes in its marketing). Best means different things to different people, and finding the right fit for you likely involves a bit of trial and error.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.