The perfect carrier
CNET readers frequently ask me which U.S. cell phone carrier is the best. Unfortunately, that’s not an easy question to answer, as it really depends on exactly what you mean by “the best.” While having the most comprehensive network is the main concern for many people, there are other valid issues to consider. Good customer service is always a plus, an affordable range of service plans is good, and a decent selection of phone and service is important as well. Personally, I’d want a carrier to exceed at all of the above, rather than doing just one thing well at the expense of all the others. And that’s one reason it’s difficult to really tell you which carrier is best–it just depends on so many factors that will vary in importance among users. What’s more, while we can evaluate factors such as customer service and handset selection, definitively stating who has the strongest and most comprehensive network isn’t as easy. To make that decision effectively and fairly, we’d have to make calls in a lot of places around the country. That’s why we’ve invited you to rate the carriers and give your thoughts on which you think is best. Also, be sure to check out our recent Make the Call discussion: Do carriers do anything right?What readers say
At the time of this writing, T-Mobile is the favorite carrier among CNET users. America’s fourth largest wireless provider has an average user rating of 7.3, the highest among the major national carriers. Verizon Wireless is second with a 7.1 rating, Sprint Nextel has a 6.6 score, and AT&T (formerly Cingular) came in last with an average user rating of 6.2. Regional operators Alltel and U.S. Cellular have scores of 7.5 and 7.1, respectively, but we added them to the chart just last week, so I can’t make a fair comparison just yet.
After scrolling through your responses, it’s clear that each carrier has its strong points, and most readers agree on what those strong points are. I’ll summarize them below, but from what I can tell, if you combine T-Mobile’s customer service and service plan selection, Verizon’s network, Sprint’s features and AT&T’s phone selection, then you’d have the perfect carrier.
Apparently there’s a very good reason T-Mobile wins awards for its customer service, as many readers reported positive experiences with T-Mobile staff. Reader Dnmvnm gave a very typical response when he said, “Every time I have called tech support, they answer the phone promptly and have always been polite and in a good mood. [They] promptly get my call to the right person to resolve my issue.” Readers also complimented T-Mobile on its inexpensive plans and its lack of restrictions. Comments regarding the phone selection were generally positive as well, though most people acknowledged (rightfully so) it wasn’t as extensive as AT&T’s. On the downside, readers weren’t so positive about T-Mobile’s reception outside of urban areas, and they bemoaned its lack of 3G and push-to-talk networks.
It’s not much of a surprise that Verizon Wireless fans raved about the carrier’s network. As reader Tejashpatel9011 said, “My phone works everywhere, and there are far less dropped calls compared to Cingular.” Other respondents glowed about the selection of high-end services such as V Cast Mobile TV and V Cast Music and the company’s selection of phones. A number of people also gave the thumbs-up to Verizon’s customer service, but there were a significant number of bad service reviews as well. Verizon didn’t fare so well on its plans–many users found them too expensive–and on its restrictive practices toward Bluetooth and third-party applications on its phones.
Sprint also got high marks for its network, though the comments weren’t as effusive as they were for Verizon. Other respondents called out the carrier’s EV-DO network, its flexible service plans, and its Power Vision multimedia programming. Reader Slugithome1977 said Sprint was great because it offers “fast Internet, lots of phones to choose from, nights starting at 7 p.m., fair and flexible plans, and free roaming.” Some respondents praised Nextel’s iDEN network and unique business-friendly offerings, but on the other hand, a large number aren’t happy about how Nextel has fared since the merger. Also, many readers were critical of Sprint’s customer service and its phone selection.
AT&T is getting a lot of attention because of the iPhone launch, but readers weren’t always complimentary in their reviews of the carrier. On the plus side, AT&T was noted for its extensive phone selection, inexpensive plans and broad international coverage. As reader Tomkatt1 said, “I have been thoroughly satisfied with their product choices, service plans, and especially rollover minutes. The selection of phones is extensive, and when I travel overseas, my phone automatically works, unlike Verizon or Sprint.” Yet, many readers complained about AT&T’s customer service and dropped calls on the domestic network.