Which Mobile Carrier Has the Best Signal?

Category: Mobile

When choosing a mobile service provider, you want to know which one has a good strong signal and a fast 4G data connection, in the places where you need to use your cell phone. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all make various claims about network coverage, reliability and speed. But is there a way to honestly compare which one is best where you live and work? Read on...

Is OpenSignal The Best Mobile Coverage Map?

London-based OpenSignal claims to publish the only unbiased mobile service coverage maps to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. The company also publishes reports drawn from its millions of real-world mobile monitoring stations -- the smartphones that run the OpenSignal app.

The app reports to OpenSignal the phone’s location, the network to which it’s connected, the actual data speed and latency of the connection. It does not collect data that would identify the user. This crowd-sourcing paradigm has enabled OpenSignal to collect 4.5 billion data points from 15 million copies of its app that have been downloaded since its release in 2010.

Open SIgnal Coverage Maps

Recently, OpenSignal published a report claiming that T-mobile has tied Verizon for “fastest 4G LTE network.” The same report put Verizon in the basement with Sprint when it comes to 3G speeds, and T-mobile far above both. Needless to say, Verizon was not pleased; Big Red hit back at OpenSignal with a statement issued on Twitter.

In its critique, Verizon says that crowd-sourced data is biased by users’ self-selection to run the OpenSignal app. Most users are in urban areas, so OpenSignal’s data is skewed in that direction and under-reports data from rural areas. OpenSignal’s comparison doesn’t reflect Verizon’s broad and deep network covering 2.4 million square miles. Also, says Verizon, the app does not count measurements in which the host phone was unable to get a signal due to so-called “dead zones” that can happen anywhere.

Verizon’s criticisms are valid from a scientific perspective; OpenSignal’s sample is not randomly selected, as the sample for an ideal experiment should be. Its methodology ignores connections that cannot be made, an important criterion no matter where one lives. But that doesn’t make OpenSignal’s coverage maps useless.

If you live in an urban area, as 80% of the U. S. population does, OpenSignal maps provide a good prediction of what a given carrier’s coverage and signal quality may be. If you don’t drive into the boondocks very often, you won’t miss rural coverage. Dead zones may not be measured, but the absence of data points in a given area certainly implies the existence of a dead zone.

I recently moved to a rural area, and was pleasantly surprised to see that OpenSignal's coverage map was quite comprehensive. I was able to confirm that Verizon has a good strong signal, AT&T is a close second, and T-Mobile would not be a good choice here.

Verdict: A Useful Tool

Overall, OpenSignal is a useful tool for the vast majority of users, and it is free of the perceived bias that attaches to professional tests paid for by the company that stands to benefit from the test results. So, which would you trust: OpenSignal’s coverage maps and comparisons, or the professional baseline reports that Verizon recommends?

But wait, there’s more! The average smartphone includes 15 different types of sensors these days, enabling measurements of everything from battery charge to ambient weather factors to the presence of Bluetooth and WiFi connections. OpenSignal offers several crowdsourced apps that can be your personal weather station, help you find a free WiFi connection, and more.

The OpenSignal mobile app will help you improve your mobile signal, and recommend the best mobile operator in any area. The signal pointer will tell you which direction to go in order to find a stronger signal. By installing it, you'll be part of a collaborative effort helping others get a better signal too.

WifiMapper helps you conserve your mobile data when you're away from home by finding free hotspots all over the world. Tap into the world's largest Wi-Fi database, with over 2,000,000 recommended free hotspots.

WeatherSignal is another crowdsourced app, which uses the temperature, pressure, humidity and other sensors in your smartphone to create a comprehensive live map of weather conditions.

Which carrier has the best signal in your neighborhood? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Which Mobile Carrier Has the Best Signal?"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

David
07 Mar 2017

This reminds me of how pathetic most reviews of smartphones are. They usually waffle on about the camera & other features but rarely if ever, discuss the phones ability to receive a usable signal in a poorly covered area. My first iPhone (a 4) was useless in my own house so I changed to a 4s which was substantially better but not brilliant. I'm now on the SE version which is as good (but no better) than the 4s


Posted by:

Cynthia Garner
07 Mar 2017

I live in the boonies. Verizon works out here on the farm. The only way my son could get his AAT&T phone to work was to go near the highway. Apparently AT&T does very well on major highways and cities, but is useless everywhere else. That's probably what helped the Canadian in his travels. I wonder if cellphone companies will give you a loaner to try out their signal for a couple of days where you will most often need to use it?


Posted by:

John
07 Mar 2017

This is so easy.

Leading national magazine reporting for and by millions of subscribers nationwide shows best carrier coverage is by Consumer Cellular) with 89 overall rating (VG: voice and text); T-Mobile gets only a 76 (Very Poor coverage for voice and text); and AT&T and Sprint eke out 70s with Very Poor voice and Poor text. The magazine show stats for 31 major metropolitan areas.

So which report do you want to believe?


Posted by:

Monte Crooks
07 Mar 2017

I live in rural (and I mean rural) Arizona, about 40 miles from Prescott, which is itself considered a rural community. Since moving to the Prescott area, my family has either been with Verizon directly or used Straight-Talk, which relies upon Verizon towers. None of the other carriers show even one bar reception from our home, while Verizon shows full bar reception. Of course, on the way to Prescott, there are several "dead" zones where nobody, except maybe a satellite phone can be used. All-in-all, Verizon wins out here. And Ask Bob wins everywhere!!


Posted by:

David
07 Mar 2017

I don't know. I think I am losing faith in you. This is the biggest bunch of bull crap I have read in a long time. I live in the sticks yet this app says both Verizon and ATT have a good signal there.Well,I have two phones. One is ATT and the other is Verizon. The Att phone at my house NO signal at all and the mighty Verizon has 1x. What a bunch of crap. And why would I have to install an app called wifi mapper to find wifi hot spots? My phone does that all by itself if I turn on wi/fi and the same goes for that weather signal app. You have had some pretty insipid articles lately.And a while back you advertised a back up drive called I-Drive. I bought on your recommendation , What a joke. How much did they pay you to write this?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Let's see... I think the check was for 600 million dollars. I love being insipid!


Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
07 Mar 2017

And in my long experience with AT&T I consistently get a better signal than friends with Verizon or Sprint (we travel a fair bit and the rest are pretty much useless outside the cities), with very few exceptions both in the City where we lived until 10 years ago and here in the wilds of Washington State. When we first moved here I looked at At&T's own coverage map which showed no coverage, but lo and behold we get better coverage than anyone with Verizon despite Open Signal's "definitive" map that shows just the opposite. We were also getting 3G when many cities weren't yet.
I think it's high time these phone companies stopped comparing themselves to each other and tried to match the signal strength in other countries. We get a better signal in a little dog and chicken village in Mexico than we get here. But I suppose that is a discussion for another time.


Posted by:

Mel
07 Mar 2017

Open Signal "looks" like it works in rural areas. It will point to "nearby" towers whether they exist or not. Probably because app users reported some signal at some time in the past and poorly defined triangulation of signal strength pointed to an erroneous location.
I have no doubt it would be much more accurate in a urban/suburban situation. But for me it pinpointed towers out to sea or in other highly unlikely locations, and displayed information that was clearly out of date in all respects. Not a useful tool for truly fringe areas.


Posted by:

john silberman
07 Mar 2017

@John
Consumer Cellular is a reseller using AT&T and T-Mobile service. So not sure how you compare Consumer Seller to a primary provider.


Posted by:

Margaree
07 Mar 2017

I spend winters in a very small southern town and frequently we drive deep, deep into the woods. I can almost always get reception with my Verizon phone; the few times when I cannot get reception on my smart phone, I can use Onstar, which is through Verizon.


Posted by:

John
07 Mar 2017

Hey Silberman!

It does not matter whether Consumer Cellular, as a reseller, uses one or 200 primary carriers. This is transparent to the user (you). You are paying them for total service and their use of variable primary carriers gives the edge to you because you get the best carrier regardless of where you are. You get an advantage - the best of all worlds. Got it?


Posted by:

Tom Janzen
07 Mar 2017

I switched to Project Fi on my Nexus 6P based primarily on Bob's recommendation, despite some trepidation at leaving Verizon. So far it works fine in the suburbs of Charlotte. For my ventures into the woods I can connect to the wi-fi on my Silverado truck through Onstar. All good.


Posted by:

Rita
07 Mar 2017

Re: Open Signal. I installed the app., then read the Terms info. which mentioned a fee for gaining access to the World Wide Web. I uninstalled the app. because, on the front page it stated, "Free." Do you know if the app. is free or not. I don't understand why they would state that I would be responsible for any fees, if the app is free. I would like to have the app., especially if it helps with securing a stronger mobile signal. Are there fees associated with this app.?


Posted by:

Jon
07 Mar 2017

I had been a T-Mobile customer for about 7 years and about 3 months ago switched to AT&T. The voice coverage has been very comparable. Each has there own bad spots where AT&T may edge out T-Mobile a bit in the rural areas. However, the internet is night and day. T-Mobile's internet is far superior. There are a bunch of areas around me that AT&T does not have LTE, and even when it does it seems to be half the speed at best. This was not the case a few years back. T-Mobile has come a long way. I will be going back to T-Mobile soon.


Posted by:

Rodgman
08 Mar 2017

This web site offers some insight on the signal strength in various areas

http://www.rootmetrics.com/en-US/home


Posted by:

Tom
08 Mar 2017

I drive all over Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Northern Indiana and have no problem getting a Verizon signal anywhere except Southeastern Ohio in spots. Some carriers only provide good signal along highway routes and cities.


Posted by:

James
08 Mar 2017

You're doing great work, and performing a great service, at no charge to the viewer. So, don't let a grump here and there, distract, though not wanting to take your part can be trying at times. Just keep on being focused ahead, and don't look back, because you're really not going that way. Keep up the good work. Let the drunks, misfits have their day, then breeze right on by. You're doing a great job. Remember: We all miss the ball once in a while.


Posted by:

Howard Spencer
08 Mar 2017

Why is it that no one mentions boost mobile? I have had them for well over a decade now, their prices have the cheapest around for years, though there are some companies that are catching up, and they get signal everywhere the big names do and some places that they don't. I think they should get at least an honorable mention.


Posted by:

Larry
08 Mar 2017

Carriers only give you "up to speeds", when what we need is minimum speed guarantees and network availability guarantees.


Posted by:

Duane
08 Mar 2017

T-mobile user. My understanding is they piggy-back on AT&T. T-mobile service in rural areas is poor at best and mostly non-existent. Traveled down Utah to AZ, then across NM, TX, to Louisana. Then north through MS, MO, IA, IL, then west across IA, NB, WY, back to UT. I think we had service outside of urban areas maybe 10-20% of the time.


Posted by:

holland
18 Mar 2017

The review comments on WIFIMAPPER are pretty crummy.


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