"We are the Nation's.......Insert Here......Cell Network"
Commerical after commerical, each United States cell phone company has its own story. But who is truly the best? Each one seems to state they are the best at something. "Largest", "Most Reliable", "Most Powerful", "Fewest Dropped Calls", "Best Plans", "Best Customer Service", etc. but who can you believe? Obviously not the cell company because their main goal is to get YOUR business. Since you have a good six or seven choices with whom to go with, each one has to seem worth your time.
So this guide breaks down what is true based on information taken from the Internet and each company's personal website. The point of this guide is to educate and not to show my personal opinions on any specific company. Based on the facts listed below, you make the choice.
(I don't update this guide as often as I should, so if you happen to read it and want me to add some new info about your favorite cell company, please send me a message.) LATE UPDATED 12-28-2011
**(Oh, and please take the time to click the 'YES' this Guide was helpful Button at the Bottom if you learned anything, the fact that this guide has been viewed over 40,000+ times over the past 5 years and still has less than 300 clicks of the button rather it be good or bad is pretty sad, if you take the time to read it, take the time to click, thank you)
PREPAID and NONE CONTRACTED SERVICE
-Straight Talk, Cricket, Metro PCS, Virgin Mobile, TracPhone, & Boost Mobile begin this guide because all of these providers are used without having to sign a service contract. Surprisingly, Metro PCS is currently the fifth largest cell company in the USA. The most popular users of these companies are those with bad or little credit and those who don't do a lot of traveling outside major cities. Straight Talk, Cricket, and Metro are really the same type of company because both provide no contract plans with UNLIMITED anytime minutes as well as unlimited texts, pictures, and internet on your phone. ALL for one monthly fee, no contract, and completely NO credit requirements. WOW! How come they don't have the most customers? Well, the problem is you ONLY get these unlimited features within a small region. Because of that, these companies are known as "bubble" cell companies. The majority of their customers come from large cities with people who need a phone for A LOT of talking without needing credit. You also won't be seeing amazing smart phones like the iPhone, Droid Razor, Nexus, or Evo through these carriers (although, you can get a low end Android based smartphone).
While Straight Talk, Cricket, and Metro provide service with a plan, Virgin and TracPhone (Prepaid cell phone from Walmart) are straight up Pay Per Use PrePaid cell companies. While the vast majority of cell users in the US prefer a monthly bill and plans that allow them unlimited services, pay per use or PPU prepaid customers have total control over what they spend each month. Rather than pay a set rate each and every month, you pay for the minutes you use. Most of the time this is done with refill cards you find at gas stations or supermarkets that you add to your account over the phone. You are charged anywhere from .5 to .25 cents per minute when you talk on your phone thus exhausting the refill forcing you to buy more. There are many different ways these plans can have additional features. Sometimes you can add unlimited texting or night & weekend minutes for an additional cost per refill at the time of activation. While others allow you free company to company calling, but charge you a $1 fee per day you make a call.
The unique aspect of Boost Mobile is they work through Sprint/Nextel and used to provide a prepaid "churp" or walkie-talkie service. At one point they offered users the ability to "churp" completely unlimited each day for the fee of just $1. The commericals for this type plan and service seem to have vanished. A NEW aspect to Boost Mobile plan service is you start with $50 and each month you pay on time consistently, your plan 'Shrinks'! Going from $50 a month to $45 after 6 months of on-time payments, to $40 after a year, and to $35 after 18 months. Considering the service is all Unlimited Nationwide, this would be the cheapest Unlimited Nationwide service WITH Talk, Text, and Web. With how much better Sprint/Nextel's network has gotten over recent years, Boost might be the BEST option in the USA. But considering Spring/Nextel is still its own company, they wouldn't want all their customers to run over to Boost. And it only applies to one phone, no shrink family plans with 5 lines.
The most popular Prepaid customers are children/teens & Seniors. It can be a great option for youth who need cell service but there is a fear of the child causing large overage bills. Since you pay before you use it, you have complete control of the usage of child. Keep in mind a customer will still pay more per month than having an additional line on their contracted Family Plan but each child is different, so the needs will very between households. Prepaid also works great for the older generations or senior members of your family that will never be using the phone for conversations and only need an active cell phone to leave in the car Prepaid customers typically keep their phone turned off, and enjoy not having to pay a service bill each month no matter how often they use the phone. Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T/Cingular all provide their own prepaid service as an option over their regular contracted service. Keep in mind that you cannot use an iPhone or Blackberry PDA Data plan on any Prepaid service from these major post paid companies, so prepaid is not an option if you need the emailing or net access of a PDA, and you want to be with a large cell company.
Overall, prepaid or none contracted service can be an excellent option for those who want the active cell phone in their life, but they don't want it for everyday use or they fear the overage bill, or maybe they just want the cheapest possible option. But an important fact to know is a prepaid user has lower priority when using the cell tower, which means if you are at a place with a lot of people using one cell tower, the prepaid phone will be the first to have no or bad service
CONTRACTED SERVICE (2 Year Contract Agreement)
-Suncom & US Cellular start the list of contract based services by being the two smaller cell companies that continue to exist despite not having service in all 50 states. In most cases, these companies will exist in more rural areas that don't have many options for cell service. Since they can't be the only provider in one area, they sometimes split time with each other or one of the other large companies. US Cellular continues to be a very popular company in the mountain and rural regions of the country. With large farms in the middle of no where, typically US Cellular will be the only service that works. For those that live in these areas, you will have no other options but US Cellular, while the larger companies stick to big cities. They seem to be ALL over East TN and the mountain range in west NC, but travel west to Nashville, and they disappear. From my experience, they offer similar plans to other cell companies with a few different features considering they don't have the same competition in rural areas. Suncom is all but gone providing service in a few states around the country. Much like US Cellular, Suncom is big in areas that don't have many options. I know the least about Suncom, so I don't have more to say about them. Currently, US Cellular is the sixth largest cell company in the USA.
- T-Mobile is the first nationwide carrier and are the youngest of the group. Most cellular carries formed from smaller cell companies already set up, while T-Mobile is a European based company that came over here to set up service. The company also operates with the GSM technology (SIM Cards). Looking at their coverage map, it seems like they only cover major cities and interstates. Once you hit any rural area, the service just drops. So they have to roam on other company's towers like AT&T or Nextel. Since their plans are nationwide, it will not cost you money, but you will have a lot more dropped calls since one of the reasons for a call dropping is the change of tower mid call. T-Mobile by far has the BEST plans for minutes, mainly Family/group plans of upto 5 lines. For the money, you get more daytime minutes than any other carrier. The reason for this is because they are the smallest so they have to offer something truly unique in order to stand out. For years they have been at the top for customer service, so while they might be smaller, they know how to treat the customers they do have. Like Sprint, they also require lower levels of credit, so it is usually easier to have service with them over the two larger companies that may require a higher deposit.
While T-Mobile continues to have one of the smaller data network (as far as areas of service), they have grown to be competitive with the larger Nationwide cell companies. They currently offer a 4G network on a handful of smart phones. And many don't know, but they were the 1st to have the Android operating system. While they don't have the iPhone, T-Mobile continues to carrier unique and powerful smart phones. The Google Phone is one of their most popular. The recent commericals seem to totally abandon the talking plans and purely talk about how their data network is better. And in some ways, it is better as far as speed and cost, but T-Mobile is still not located all over the country. Those who travel by car between cities on interstates will not be happy with their data service as the 4G is ONLY in major cities. It will expand over time, but T-Mobile will never be able to offer 4G in the same way as the remaining three cell companies.
Customers who want the most nationwide technology in a major city or suburb with the cheapest cost and don't travel alot, T-Mobile is an excellent option. Its clear unless they are bought by AT&T (since they are both GSM / SIM card networks), T-Mobile is not going anywhere as a competitive powerhouse in the USA.
- Sprint Nextel is next line as the third largest cell provider in the USA, which is surprising considering just about three years ago, they were all but out of business. Once a huge landline provider, Sprint has turned its focus on cell phones. For years, Sprint was a top player in the cell phone industry, going neck and neck with Verizon in the '90s as the largest provider with many long standing customers. Even when Cingular was created in the late '90s, Sprint continued to stay near the top. Everything seemed to change in 2005 when they purchased Nextel, and changed their logo & colors to black & yellow (Nextel colors). Normally a merger of two major cell companies means a larger network of customers and techology as all the cell towers combine (just like when Cingular bought the old AT&T Wireless in 2004). BUT, Sprint uses CDMA technology & Nextel uses GSM or as they call it iDEN (SIM cards). So while both companies were now owned and controlled by Sprint, they were still two seperate companies with different rate plans, phones, & technology. Sprint being the larger more powerful company wanted Nextel for its Walkie-Talkie network of customers. This idea seemed like it would work, but in the end, the merger only drove people away. They finished 5th overall for 2006 in revenue. Not only that, but they continued to lose more customers to other companies than any other mainly because their customer service had dropped greatly. As reported in a Newsweek article back in Aug '07, Sprint dropped over 1,000 customers simply because they called into customer service too much.
Just when it seemed Sprint was about to leave the industry, they made huge changes. As a last hope of staying in business, Sprint fired their CEO and almost overnight adopted the idea of one rate plan for everything. They called the plan the 'Simply Everything Plan' providing customers with Unlimited Nationwide Talk, Text, Pics, Emails, & Internet for a flat price of $99 (NOW $69). This change happened very close to the time that both Verizon & AT&T adopted their Unlimited Nationwide talking plans for $99 (NOW also $69 but STILL, JUST TALKING). Sprint took a big leap in cost difference, and it paid off. The rest of their plans for single & family plans remain pretty much the same with all of them including free 7 at 7 night & weekend minutes and the abiltiy to add unlimited text (No Pics) for $10 to a line. Going forward Sprint w/ Nextel stays in the fight with simliar phones to Verizon and a strong data network for its 4G & Wireless Broadband cards (in major cities).
While Sprint Nextel used to own the rights to the NFL, they still own the main NASCAR series rightfully called the 'Sprint Nextel Cup Series'. Gaining the offical name of the most popular sport in the USA was a huge move forward for Sprint as it provides constant advertising by all NASCAR media for 36 weeks out of the year. Not only excellent advertising for Sprint themselves, but because they literally own the entire racing series, they have totally prevented Verizon and AT&T from advertising on the main and most popular NASCAR series.
At first glance, it may seem like Sprint should be the #1 carrier in the country considering they still offer the Unlimited Data plan as well as price all their plans lower than both Verizon and AT&T. Well, the main reason Sprint continues to fall behind the other two cell phone giants is the only offer their quoted price plan on THEIR NETWORK! The simply 'Everything Plan' where you get unlimted talk, text, & data on ANY phone only applies when you are using Sprint owned cell towers. It might surprise you that if you happen to us another companies cell tower, you go onto a totally different rate plan. Which is no where near unlimited. If you look on Sprints website, the contract states customers are allowed 800 minutes of talking and 300 MB of Data per month on NON-Sprint towers. So if you happen to use a Verizon tower, you could create an overage bill. So while Sprint does offer better prices plans, you are not able to use your cell phone nationwide the exact same way as Verizon and AT&T.
With all the changes for the better, both good & bad, it is clear Sprint / Nextel is in a position to grow. The CEO announced in Oct 2010 they will begin to phase out the old iDEN network that works the 'Walkie-Talkie' technology as a process to focus on growing the 4G network. In a short time, it will no longer be possible to quick connect or 'walkie-talkie' between cell phones. The change does make since as the fast majority of the country is no longer using the technology. And with the addition of the iPhone 4S, there is no limit to how high Sprint can go.
- AT&T comes next in this guide because they are currently the second largest cell company in the US (Formly the largest until Verizon purchased Alltel back in 2008). Wait, didnt AT&T used to be Cingular Wireless? And wait again? Didn't Cingular purchase AT&T Wireless back in 2004? So why are they called AT&T again? OK, so once upon a time there was Cingular Wireless, which was originally created by two very large landline companies known as Southwestern Bell Company or SBC and Bellsouth. In forming Cingular, these two companies were able to help the other by combining the towers from the parts of the country that the other controlled. Cingular was the 1st company in the USA to offer a true Nationwide cell plan back in 2002 with ZERO Roaming charges. Cingular went on this way until the end of 2004 when they purchased AT&T Wireless. Since both used the same GSM technology, Cingular was able to combine ALL the AT&T Wireless towers with their own thus creating the larger more powerful Cingular which all have seen these past years. Now, AT&T Wireless had completely NO ties to the old landline AT&T that we all know from history class. It was simply a wireless company with the same name. So, what happened recently is that SBC purchased the old AT&T landline, thus changing their name from SBC to AT&T. Then this new AT&T purchased Bellsouth. Making the two original parent companies of Cingular into one LARGE company under the old AT&T name. Now that Cingular is controlled by just one company, it has become the wireless division of the new AT&T company. Thus the name Cingular is gone. Oh, and just for education sake, the new AT&T Company is now the 3rd!! LARGEST Company in the whole United States (behind Exxon & Microsoft).
As mentioned earlier, Cingular/AT&T have the same rate plans as Verizon. You get the same number of daytime mines, free company to company (AT&T to AT&T) calling, and free night & weekend minutes starting at 9 for the exactly same amount of money. BUT, you Rollover your minutes. Truly one of the coolest aspects to their company because if you think about it, this is the ONLY company where you have the least chance of an overrage bill from talking. If you think about how people use cell phones, you always start your service on a plan that fits your needs, if its too low in the beginning, you change it fast. So now you have a plan where you NEVER go over. Just like all the rest. The bill is the same each month, so you never notice how much you talk. THEN, it happens, you have that RANDOM situation where you truly need to use your cell phone WAY more than ever before. Maybe it was car problems in the middle of no where, or a loved one was in the hospital. Whatever the reason, you talked and talked and talked. Then the cell bill comes in, and with ANY other cell phone company, this was the month you just had to pay them more money. In most cases, every 100 minutes you go over, will cost you an extra $40. So 500 minutes over equals $200 extra that month. Which for many hurts when you aren't used to it. But rollover completely and totally prevents you EVER paying that extra $200. Another positive aspect to rollover is it gives you a great way to protect yourself when introducing your teenage / young adult to your cell plan. If they go over, you can get control over it before it cost you extra money. Oh, and speaking of rollover, many don't know that the minutes you rollover you keep for a whole year and only expire month by month. So the minutes from January you keep til next January, but you don't lose the Feb minutes until next Feb. You keep that specific month for a full calender year. Now, it is important to note that you can lose your rollover when you change your rate plan. It all depends on what you are changing to plan to and how many total rollover minutes you have built up. Example: if you have a 900 minute nation plan with 1,000 rollover minutes built up & lower it to a 450 plan, then your rollover is lower to 450, the amount you change your rate plan to. Now the opposite also applies, if you had the same 900 plan with 1,000 rollover built up & changed to the higher 1400 plan, then you don't lose ANY of the 1,000 rollover. This rule was put into effect to stop people from paying for the 3000+ plan for one month & then lowering it to the 450 the next month so they could have 2300 or so rollover to use for 11 months.
Many don't know the reason for SBC & Bellsouth wanting to combine to become the New AT&T was purely because of the Apple iPhone. When Verizon told Apple they didnt want the iPhone back in 2006, Apple was forced to meet in front of two different company boards from SBC & Bellsouth in order to approve the iPhone. From there it started the wheels turning for the new AT&T as one large communciation provider. Upon releasing the Apple iPhone AT&T stayed the exculsive provider of the iPhone from June 2007 to Feb 10, 2010. The iPhone broke the record for the most new phones sold on the opening weekend in the history of cell phones. The iPhone itself has its own guide which I have written (please check it out), so I won't go into all the details now. Just know that the iPhone is now the most popular phone model worldwide, and currently the #1 reason for change between cell companies. While the other cell phone companies can claim to have a phone that is equal if not more advanced to the iPhone, there is STILL no other phone that comes close to its capability. The best way to describe the iPhone is it's a handheld computer with a phone program. It doesn't just have similar cell phone features i.e. (Internet, MP3 player, camera, gps, etc). The data plans on the iPhone as well as all smart phones are no longer unlimited, but a specific amount of either MBs per month for $15 or GBs per month at $25. Phones like the Blackberry can still get unlimited for $45. And all grandfathered unlimited iPhone plans are allowed to stay in affect as the AT&T customer upgrades their iPhone.
AT&T has recently launch their own 4G network, in time it will be the most powerful in the country as it will be supported by current technology that makes their 3G network the fastest of all 3G wireless networks. The problem now is AT&T was the last to introduce the 4G, a full two years behind Sprint, and about half a year behind Verizon. So phones like the HTC EVO on 4G can provide users with more features and faster Internet on the 4G Sprint Towers. Only time will tell, but as long as the iPhone continues to upgrade itself, AT&T isn't going anywhere.
- Verizon Wireless finishes this guide because they are currently the largest cell phone company with over 80 million customers after purchasing Alltel Wireless in 2008. They also continue to make the MOST money / revenue of any cell company. What makes Verizon so good? To begin, they use the CDMA technology (same as Sprint). So while they are able to provide excellent service for customers in the US, their phones simply will not work outside the US unless you are in specific areas of Canada, other countries like the US that also have both CDMA & GSM (New Zealand), or you have a very specific phone (Blackberry Storm). The reason the company continues to be strong is because they have always been consistant with their service. If you look back at the past 10 years, Verizon has always been in the top 3 for cell companies. Once it was formed from the joining of many smaller regional based companies, they have never stopped growing. They introduce technology as fast as it comes out, and currently provides the best option for GPS (global positioning system) on the majority of their phones, while companies like AT&T and T-Mobile can only provide it on a handfull of devices. The company also continues to offer very good prices on their top end phones when signning up for 2-year service contract. What doesn't make since is how they can continue to bring in the most revenue. The main reason for this is because until recently they have never given ANYTHING away. I mean nothing. No free incoming, no free 7 at 7 night/weekend minutes, no rollover, and no free messanging. All additional features require additional cost to your bill. And the funny thing is their minute plans (with JUST minutes) are priced the EXACT same as AT&T only they don't have rollover. Currently you might see the two companies plans look different with Verizon offering Free Texts, Pics etc on all their Family Plans. Well, all they did was apply the unlimited messaging feature that cost 29.99 extra to their plans and said that was the new plan. So while it seems like they are finally giving away something, they are still charging the same amount as before.
Now, after decades of no free / included features, they have invented their own version of Favs (mainly because they bought Alltel & got the rights to their once 10 Favs plan). But, unlike Alltel, the feature is more expensive than what Alltel used to charge for, so really, they are still not giving anything away. The main reason Verizon has been able to get away with always charging the most is because they have been provided very solid 'reliable' phone service for truly almost 20 years. No other cell company can say this or has that long of a tenure in the industry. Verizon continues to be the highest company for customer retension. That means people don't leave Verizon as often as the other companies. At first one might think that comes from the fact that many who are fine with how the service itself works see no reason to ever change since the need for a cell phone is being met year after year. Plus at this point in their life, all their friends and family all have Verizon, so it makes no sense to leave. They never require additional free features when the unlimited mobile to mobile from their regular plan is all they need.
While its true that many customers stay with Verizon forever, for the past 3 and half years, the #1 reason for leaving Verizon was the iPhone. Despite getting worse service on the iPhone with AT&T in some areas, customers wanted the phone itself more than the service, so millions and millions of customers left Verizon to join the iPhone club. After finally realizing their mistake, Verizon pushed to finally get their own iPhone which FINALLY happened on February 10th, 2011. The iPhone 4 was released for Verizon as a CDMA so it only works with Verizon. But the iPhone 4S was made with both CDMA and GSM so works with all three providers as well as Worldwide. The ONLY difference between them is you can only talk and use Internet with AT&T. But honestly, the Verizon iPhone has better service nationwide.
To conclude who really is the best, it all comes down to your personal needs. If you are only looking for a cell phone that will work pretty much anywhere in the US which must also have a strong data network for both emailing & Internet as well as the largest mobile to mobile network of any US company, Verizon is honestly the best. If want a similar network both talking & data as well as need a phone that can work well almost anywhere in the world, & also has the least chance of an overage bill, then AT&T is honestly the best. If you want a solid cell phone that has a very strong 4G network and the largest walkie-talkie network of customers as well as the cheapest cell plans for a phone that will work well in the whole US, then Sprint is the best. Finally, if you live in a major city / area around the city & never travel, but also want all the popular features, then Cricket or Boost might be the best for you. Of course, you can't forget that a good number of you will find Prepaid service as long as it works no matter who it might be with to be the best.
SO, there you have it. This guide is long, but I wanted it to be as complete as possible. Not only breaking down the differences, but hopefully educating people about any aspect of the wireless world they might have been unaware of. Please excuse any fact about a specific cell company that might be no longer true because it has changed since this guide was last updated. I try to go back and update as I find out about new information but for the most part, I will never be able to keep up. It changes TOO much!! Hopefully you learned enough to feel like it was worth the read. And PLEASE remember to click the button!!!!! Thank you.