The Best Mobile Network For You?
A question comes up often from my readers: “What is the best mobile network?” Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions to which the answer is, “It depends…” The answer to the question can get pretty complex when all of the dependencies are considered. Let's take a look...
What Makes a Mobile Provider Excellent?
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are the dominant players in the mobile industry. Competing radio, TV and online commercials try to convince you that one is better than the others. So what's the truth? It depends mainly on you, the user. What’s important to you in a mobile service: signal coverage, data speed, customer service, or something else? It also depends on where you use mobile service, and your travel habits.
Signal coverage is generally “excellent” in the core areas of most major cities, no matter which carrier you use. It gets spottier the further you move into the suburbs. Traveling by road in between cities, you’ll get a good signal with any of the major carriers most of the time. But if you go just a mile or two away from major highways, you’ll find that coverage varies enormously in rural areas.
The map shown here illustrates T-mobile’s coverage of Denver's western suburbs, and more sparsely populated mountain areas. Green areas have strong signal strength while red areas have weaker signal. The data points in this map are actual signal strengths experienced by users as reported by an app developed by OpenSignal, an independent research firm specializing in mobile carriers.
OpenSignal’s app measures more than signal strength. It also measures download speeds and network latency, millions of times per day. When it comes to data speeds, Verizon’s LTE network is the long-reigning leader. But in recent months, T-mobile has improved to virtually tie Verizon. AT&T comes in third place, and Sprint, bless its little heart, is a distant fourth.
Another significant measure is the percentage of connection time that LTE customers spent on LTE connections with each carrier, as opposed to dropping down to a slower technology because LTE was unavailable. Verizon takes first place, but T-mobile is very close behind.
Coverage, Signal Strength or Customer Satisfaction?
The A.C. Nielsen Co. reports that T-mobile subscribers have the highest level of overall satisfaction with their carrier, and are most likely to recommend their carrier to others. Verizon and AT&T are significantly behind T-mobile and close to each other. (I report I saw yesterday indicated that Verizon had lost a stunning 400,000 customers in the first quarter of 2017.) Sprint is in the basement, but climbing steadily in recent months. Sprint may overtake the declining AT&T soon.
Which carrier is best for you depends on where you live and how you use mobile devices. Looking at the latest data from OpenSignal’s app provides good measures of coverage, download speeds, and latency. Customer satisfaction is a subjective metric that is just as important as objective metrics like coverage and speed.
If you live in a metro area, or near a major highway, all four of the major carriers will have a pretty strong signal. So it boils down to which of them offers the best plan for you and your family. Competing plans seem to change monthly, but there has been an encouraging trend of late to move back to "unlimited data" plans, so if you tend burn through data with your GPS, Youtube, music streaming or gaming, see my article The Return of Unlimited Data Plans.)
Of course, there are also the resellers, who bundle or repackage cellular services from one or more of the above. Some of the more popular ones include Republic Wireless, Consumer Cellular, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Tracfone, Net10, Straight Talk, and Ting. You can find links to their websites and more money-saving tips in my article STOP Wasting Money on Your Cell Phone.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 21 Apr 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- The Best Mobile Network For You? (Posted: 21 Apr 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved