Fun With Cell Phone Carriers

In the United States we have four cell phone providers to choose from; Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. OK, there are a few other smaller games in town but being able to sign up for them is generally region dependent and in most cases you’re stuck with one of the big four. If you ask four different people what carrier is the best you’re likely to get four different answers. This is because each service provider has ups and downs. As I’m heading out of the country for the first time in my life I decided to check what my options were for communications.

Currently I have a line with Sprint and another line with AT&T. Sprint, being a CMDA carrier, has almost no coverage outside of the country. Thankfully AT&T is a GSM carrier so I can actually use my phone outside the country. For those planning on leaving the country and planning to use their AT&T (or T-Mobile) phone let me give you some advice: get a roaming voice, data, and text plan. The rate for international roaming is fucking insane without these packages so put them on before you head out. Even with the international roaming packages the prices are still insane but not as insane. Of course if you’re going to be out of the country for some time, or frequently visit a county, I’d advise you to get an unlocked phone and a SIM card in your destination country from one of that region’s local carriers (as I’m only going to be out of the country for a few days this didn’t make sense for me).

Many people outright hate AT&T and previously Sprint was held with with absolute lowest regards. Funny enough I’ve had great service with both so I can’t really complain. Not fitting the usual mold of customers who are dissatisfied with their carriers I thought it would be fun to write up my guide of United States wireless carrier (also I needed a canned post since I’m not around to post material, bear with me).

Verizon: Verizon currently enjoys the position of most beloved carrier in the United States (according to anecdotal evidence obtained by me). There are a lot of reasons for this including their great coverage, established LTE network, and vast selection of phones. On the other hand they are a CDMA carrier meaning your phone is unlikely to work outside of the United States and when you are in the United States the cost of your service is bloody high. Verizon also charges you based on the amount of data you use meaning those using 5GB are going to be paying more than those who use 2GB.

AT&T: Your soul will get you service but they also demand periodic blood sacrifices to maintain that service. What I’m trying to say is that AT&T, like Verizon, is expensive and the cost of data is based on use. As a small data user (I average 200MB a month) this hasn’t harmed me but I know people who like to stream Netflix to their phone and those people are going to feel the pain on AT&T. Being a GSM provider you can actually use your phone outside of the United States… for a price. AT&T also enjoys a very good selection of phones, namely because it is a GSM network and thus phones made for other countries can function.

Sprint: Minus the wide coverage Sprint is very similar to Verizon for a much lesser price. Sprint subscribers can also roam on Verizon’s network when Sprint coverage isn’t available, although you’ll get your line cancelled if you use it on Verizon’s network too much. Once again you’ll be on a CDMA network meaning your phone is unlikely to work if you leave the country but considering the fact that you get unlimited data for a fair price the advantages can outweigh the negatives quickly for most living in this country. Sprint’s phone selection was pretty pitiful but has been greatly improving.

T-Mobile: The smallest carrier of the four but also the one with the cheapest overall plans. While T-Mobile doesn’t charge you based on the mount of data you use they start throttling you when you’ve used more than 5GB. This is a good middle ground between Verizon and AT&T’s method and Sprint’s. Once again you’re dealing with a GSM carrier so you can use your phones outside of the United States… for a price. Unfortunately T-Mobile and AT&T use different bands for their 3G coverage meaning phones made for AT&T will not function nominally on T-Mobile and vise versa. T-Mobile customers can roam on AT&T’s network but without the benefit of 3G data speeds. T-Mobile’s selection of phones is also great being a GSM provider and all.

I didn’t mention coverage simply because that’s entirely region dependent. In the Twin Cities region I have great AT&T and Sprint coverage but in Southeastern Minnesota, where I’m originally from, I have barely any Sprint coverage and no AT&T coverage. Everybody I’ve talked to seems to have a similar experience where one carrier enjoys exceedingly good coverage in their area while others experience little or no coverage at all. This is something you will have to research before signing up for a service provider.