We at Cellular Abroad, as experts in international cellular service, are often asked by our customers (and some have been with us since our humble begins in 2002) to point them in the right direction regarding what cellular carrier is the best to use in the United States. The easy answer is…it depends. That’s because without gathering additional information, giving a solid recommendation is impossible. Here is a simple analogy explaining why. Imagine if someone asks you for your recommendation on what vehicle to purchase. You might tell them that you like Ferrari’s. And then you find out, their budget is around $70,000. So then you might tell them to consider a Tesla, to which they respond that they drive long distances and that wouldn’t be ideal because they may ran out of battery, to which you may then tell them to consider an Audi. And then you find out they have 5 kids, and that they live in the country where the roads are muddy. Given all of these factors, you will probably reconsider your original recommendation – perhaps now suggesting to by a Jeep! The point is, just like we have unique needs for a car, many of us have similar needs for cellular service.
Here is a short list of considerations:
Which carrier has the best coverage?
No carrier on the planet can guarantee 100% coverage. It does not exist. Just because Verizon “works” in New York City doesn’t mean that it necessarily works where you live or work or the places you go.
The only way to know for sure if there is service where you are or where you will be is to try it out. No coverage map can tell you 100% that there will be a good signal where you are. If you’ve been to New York City, you probably know this. So how do you find out?
Legally, carriers have to give you an “out” to your contract within a specific timeframe. That means that you could sign up, try it out for a day and then pull out of your contract. There are probably better approaches than signing up with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile just to find out which carrier works the best. Probably the easiest is to ask your friends who their carrier is when they are at your house or office and find out from them how good the reception is. Please remember that “best” doesn’t mean perfect. It simply means that for you and your personal needs, there is coverage where you typically use the phone.
One more tip about this.
If you look at a coverage map and compare coverage, you will see that indeed Verizon does have a better “footprint,” specifically for more rural areas. Again, how often does that impact your? If you are a traveling salesman and you DO often go to rural places, then perhaps Verizon is your best bet. Having said that, Verizon uses CDMA which has arguably inferior sound quality. Here is an analogy. If you are in a rural setting, you may notice that you get a lot more AM radio stations than FM. AM radio waves are larger and more pervasive but, they do not have the same quality of stereo sound as FM radio. This is similar with CDMA in comparison to GSM – which is what T-Mobile and AT&T use.
Do you use lot and lots of data?
Most carriers offer “unlimited data.” On the service, that should level the playing field – at least regarding data – but the reality is that in the wireless industry there is a concept called Fair Usage. Fair usage, at the end of the day, means that there is a limit. Almost all carriers have a Fair Usage Policy.
Still, the vast majority of people are not effected by these limits. The exceptions are probably gamers, bloggers, Uber and Lyft drivers and those who upload videos for whatever reason. This article has a table showing the real limits of data Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans
Do you make and receive a lot of calls?
Most carriers offer “unlimited calling.” Here too there are usually fair usage policies. While the usage limits tend to be high and typically this won’t effect you, you may not be the typical user. And what if you rarely use your phone? Why should you be paying for unlimited cellular service when you need an emergency phone? It’s like paying for a buffet and having just a slice of pie.
Are you a senior citizen?
Some carriers offer discounts to senior citizens. Often they do not even make you aware that they do but, if you are a senior citizen and you get this free perk, why not take advantage of it? In fact, some carriers have great deals for senior citizens yet they hardly advertise them. Even if you do not intend to switch, if you are a senior citizen, you should find out from your carrier what they have to offer.
Do you mind using an off brand?
We’ve all heard about Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint but, there are literally dozens of other brands out there in the market. Of course, why choose a little known brand since their coverage must be terrible, right? Wrong! These smaller carriers actually use the same towers as AT&T et al and hence, the coverage is exactly the same. In fact, if coverage is an issue for your, there are even a few of these carriers that use several carriers and therefore, their coverage is even better than the Big Four.
So, how do you find out about all the different offers and deals…and what carrier gives you the best deal for ditching your carrier?
Read this excellent article from our friends at Fomopop on the Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans where you will find comparison charts addressing just exactly what the different carriers offer.