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Ask Slashdot: Best Cell Phone Carrier In the US? 375

Posted by Soulskill
from the bring-on-the-anecdotes dept.
martypantsROK writes "After nearly seven years of living abroad, I'm planning to return to the U.S. in early 2013. Last time I lived there, smart phones weren't out yet. Dropped calls were common, and poor reception (can you hear me now?) was an ad campaign. I'm used to South Korea's wicked speeds, both for internet and wireless networks, and I'm wondering what the Slashdot community believes to be best carrier in the U.S. Which is fastest? Which offers the best deal for lots of data? Nationwide roaming and coverage? Prices? Service?"
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Ask Slashdot: Best Cell Phone Carrier In the US?

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  • Is there one? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suso (153703) * on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:59PM (#41533521) Homepage Journal

    That's like asking what the best fast food restaurant is.

    • by starworks5 (139327) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:02PM (#41533547) Homepage

      SmokeMobile - uses smoke signals instead of cell towers.

    • Re:Is there one? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:51PM (#41533923) Journal

      That's like asking what the best fast food restaurant is.

      It used to be Wendy's, but they've done something to the bacon, and hiked up the prices. They've gone downhill quite a bit since Dave Thomas died.

      • by paiute (550198) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:10PM (#41534071)

        That's like asking what the best fast food restaurant is.

        It used to be Wendy's, but they've done something to the bacon, and hiked up the prices. They've gone downhill quite a bit since Dave Thomas died.

        Dave Thomas dies. Their bacon changes taste. Oh, God, no!

        • by Genda (560240)

          Yeah, stay away from the Wendy's Soylent Burgers... Their new add campaign focuses on "The familiar taste of Wendy's, just like someone you've always known???"

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          Dave Thomas dies. Their bacon changes taste. Oh, God, no!

          Remember the hog shortage? I mean, with the price of meat what it is, when you get it, if you get it... [youtube.com]

          Also bear in mind that the flavor varies from person to person.

        • Disagree 100%. They used to be just like any other chain, with a slightly different flavor. Now their burgers are up there with "Casual Dining" burgers. Ever since they started the "Never Frozen" thing, their burger quality has skyrocketed.
      • It used to be Wendy's, but they've done something to the bacon, and hiked up the prices.

        In the last year or so, they have also done something to the hamburger they use.

        I used to like Wendy's - now I can't even stomach one of their burgers. They're easily the worst of any major chain.

    • by msimm (580077)
      Chipotle. Got that for you..
    • That's like asking what the best fast food restaurant is.

      Wherever you are, it's always something local with only one outlet. Fourth and Sea or Fresh Freeze or Mom's Burger Bar or some such.

  • by be99 (1598591) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:02PM (#41533543)
    www.opensignalmaps.com - Great for telling you coverage of the various phone providers. If you're going for sprint, try www.ting.com (I don't work for them) - but that said, they seem to be the most sane in terms of billing.
    • by fermion (181285)
      I would also recommend http://www.antennasearch.com/ [antennasearch.com]. A while back I bought a device from Sprint, but could get no good reception. I checked this site and saw that though towers were nearby none were near enough to actually provide a good signal. Though they claim to have a 30 day return policy, I got a lot of grief even though I showed that the device was useless to me.

      The US is a big place, and even within relatively small geographical areas there can be a lot of variation. Look at where you are goi

    • by Maow (620678) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:05AM (#41534323) Journal

      I'd add www.coveragemapper.com [coveragemapper.com] and www.cellmapper.net [cellmapper.net] to the list although I'm not sure how complete their coverage maps are for USA; pretty good for Canada.

      I checked out opensignal.com (formerly opensignalmaps.com) and was disappointed in the countries & cities they had maps for.

  • They all suck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Flounder (42112) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:05PM (#41533567)
    Just accept that and find the plan that best suits your needs.
  • by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:05PM (#41533571) Homepage Journal

    The best customer service you'll get is T-Mobile. Not the best coverage if you are outside of a metro area but they have fantastic UMA (WiFi calling) support. Their plans are as good or better than others.

    Just getting reasonable people on the phone for support is what has kept me happy for 7 years.

    • by hawkeyeMI (412577) <brock.brocktice@com> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:12PM (#41533617) Homepage
      I used T-Mobile for years, and was very happy with them in major metropolitan areas. I had to switch to Verizon when I moved to a rural area, and I hate them. We now have T-Mobile coverage here, so once the next batch of Nexus phones are announced, I'm switching back.

      IME you can't beat the customer service from T-Mobile. Verizon's has been less than great and their prices are through the roof.
      • Re:T-Mobile (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rwa2 (4391) * on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:20AM (#41534433) Homepage Journal

        I don't really care about customer service, but I've been a pretty happy T-Mobile customer since the Voicestream days.

        They probably have the cheapest plans, and will probably be the most familiar service for international folks... what with using SIM cards and allowing you to use unlocked phones and such. If you already have a quad-band "international" phone, this may be your best bet with finding a phone you can use elsewhere in the world (but do your research... there seem to be some caveats when it comes to max data speed).

        Also, don't shy away with buying an unlocked smartphone from Craigslist. You can get lots of equipment like that for pretty cheap, and T-mobile has cheaper monthly rates without a 1-2yr contract that you would have to sign up for when subsidizing a phone purchase through them... though you might have to dig a bit to get to those cheaper plans.

        Another side benefit is if you pay for the Android data plan, you could probably get away with tethering Android tablets at no extra charge. They recently started detecting PC browsers and redirecting you to a tethering upsell if you try to tether a laptop, though.

        Coverage is great in metropolitan areas and along most interstate corridors. If you want better coverage, then pay out the nose for a Verizon phone... I've had these for work... so I didn't really care about having a locked-down phone as long as I wasn't paying for it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Macrat (638047)

      Very true.

      Want to turn over your wallet for high monthly charges? Chose AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

      T-Mobile is the only real choice.

      • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:34PM (#41533787) Homepage Journal

        Well, no kIdding. If you're going to buy all three it's going to get pricey.

      • by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:59PM (#41534295) Journal

        Or MetroPCS. I've been MetroPCS customers for years since I got tired of Verizon's (over)pricing games. Coverage is actually pretty good (in Nevada/California) the price is excellent, unlimited EVERYTHING for $50.

        No, I have no affiliation other than being a happy customer. Customer service is almost non-existent, but we've never felt the need for it because it just works and the bill is (ahem) flat rate.

        Also, contracts are month to month and if you are too late, your phone just stops working. When you pay the bill your phone starts working within an hour or so. There is no collections department.

        IMHO, this is cellular done right.

    • I agree. Of all the evils, T-Mobile is the least. If you aren't planning on going out into deep rural areas T-Mobile should always treat you right. That said, why the hell would you want to leave South Korea for the crap communication we have State side?
  • They are all terrible in one way or another. In the end it's going to be who sucks the least.
  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:20PM (#41533669)
    If you do not specify your requirements, you cannot expect to get answers with appropriate solutions.
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I think AT&T is the best. I'm yet to see another carrier that misses more calls and drops more calls. I think the excel at that. They also have an accurate system to send you text messages reminding you, you're not on the most expensive data plan, as you consume your economy one, with the bloated devices they sell.
  • ...the harder part is finding out which one sucks just a little less at any particular point.

  • I'm that one guy who manages to get pretty good reception through AT&T where I live. I regularly make 2+ hour phone calls that do not get dropped. I don't have missed calls or SMS's that never arrive. On that note, I'm actually fairly happy with them. But in terms of service... UGH.

    Twice this year I've had issues that required that I have a chat with them. Both were issues that could easily have been resolved via e-mail, and both ended up with a lengthy email exchange AND time on the phone. I don'

    • by spauldo (118058)

      I had two numbers on AT&T - one phone and one data. For data I had a cell modem card that was 3G capable.

      One day, my data card screws up on me and won't connect anymore. I get weird light patterns on it. Oh well, time for a new data card, I think. So, I stop at an AT&T store to look into upgrades.

      Turns out, I still had the "unlimited" plan, and had racked up 20GB of data. I knew there was no way I used that much data - for one, my laptop is usually hibernating in the sleeper of my truck. I fig

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:26PM (#41533719)

    Verizon has ubiquitous buildouts of outdated wireless infrastructure. They can service a text message or a voice call almost anywhere in the US. They also charge 70+ a month for basic service, and have technological limitations on surfing while talking. I hear their customer service is legendary in the "eldritch horror" category.

    ATT has the best GSM tech buildout in the US, but is SERIOUSLY oversold. They engage in abusive market tactics, pathologically insist the problem isn't from overselling, and have customer service horrible enough that even verizon could appear desirable. Theoretically can surf and talk simultaneously, but charge extra for the priviledge of tethering, drop calls horribly, and have spotty data coverage.

    Sprint-Nextel has a fairly stable network of comparatively subpar network technologies servicing cheaper prepaid type devices and feature phones. Cheap and ubiquitous, but data is a farce, IIRC.

    T-Mo has very limited buildout, is not loved by the parent company (deutch telecom), and struggles in the telecom marketplace. Despite this, has fairly nice customer service, offers incentives for patronage of their users, and are trying to improve coverage maps and network tech. Currently involved in a fairly ambitious LTE 4G buildout. Reasonably inexpensive; no contract unlimited talk, text, and 2gb 4G data for 60/mo. (Not the fastest though. 5300kbps down, 1200kbps up last I measured in my area.) Spotty coverage. Claim to fame is wifi calling and free teathering.

    To me, the ideal carrier could only be born from strongly enforced neutrality laws allowing cheap sublicense of spectrum and infrastructure, with a dual technology, quad-band handset, able to leverage verizon's CDMA network as a fallback, and full GSM operation on both ATT and T-Mo spectrum. Such a company could never exist in the USA under prevailing conditions, which do not foster true innovative service offerings, but rather collusion based pricing hegemonies.

    That's about the schtick of it as far as I know.

    I actually like T-Mo, despite the weak coverage areas. I recently got a nice promotional offer from them recently for being a long term customer. (They offered the next tier service at my current tier price for 12 months, which greatly increased my dl cap at 4G speed.)

    As far as I know, ATT and verizon bend over backwards to make you lose old plans they think aren't profitable, and force you to spend money. (I can revert to my previous level of service very painlessly with T-Mo after the promotion ends.)

    If you are spoiled by south korean telecom, you be mortified by the horrible state of american telecom.

    • As far as I know, ATT and verizon bend over backwards to make you lose old plans they think aren't profitable, and force you to spend money.

      As far as I know about Verizon trying to make you spend money is only recent - I've been with them for ~10 years. If you are an old fart with Verizon like me, you have to give up your unlimited data UNLESS you buy your new phone outright at full price. Now I normally don't use a ton of data, but if they want to play games I can start tethering and guzzling bandwidth when I get my new phone.....

    • Verizon has the best service (in terms of quality) in cities. But in the west at least, AT&T seems like they have better coverage outside cities than Verizon... I just switched to Verizon, and I have better luck making calls at my house but venturing up into the mountains of Colorado I lose signal in places where AT&T was somewhat there (mountains are pretty rough on cell phone signal though).

      Out east I think Verizon is supposed to be better everywhere.

      One thing that Verizon actually does seem to d

  • Competition is very tight between the main companies (sprint, t-mobile, AT&T) which means prices are comparable. It comes down to which has the features you want, with the most reliability and lowest price.

    If you don't know, the United States does cell phone service differently than many other places. Here, you generally have your phone subsidized by buying a contract and that phone is then locked to the carrier, whereas (if I understand it correctly) in Europe you go buy a phone at full price then c
  • Check the maps (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zibodiz (2160038) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:28PM (#41533739)
    Check the coverage maps, then get an MVNO that operates off the towers of whoever has the best coverage. Straight Talk offers phones on all 4 major networks, for significantly lower monthly costs and no contracts. Boost and Cricket have pretty good prices too. In my area, the only national carrier with decent coverage is Verizon, but I'm sure that changes for the Eastern Seaboard.
    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      Sounds like good advice. How do I do that? I've never owned a cellphone before. SimplyMobile seems cheap, but how do I know if I get coverage?
    • Sensorly.com [sensorly.com] provides coverage maps from user-generated data. I don't know how good the quality of the data is, but it allows you to compare many different carriers and avoids relying on the carriers themselves.

  • I live 10 miles outside a city of 150,000 people and I drop calls on TMobile on a regular basis. Their map claims I should get two bars at home, some times I get none at all. In fact, their map of this area is one huge lie as I can tell you exactly where there are huge dead zones that they claim to be 1-2 bar zones, and I have confirmed this with several different phones on their network.

    The situation has been this way for 7+ years now. Now as an added bonus sometimes when I am at home, if the call isn
  • Where I live, having AT&T is actually worse than having no service at all. It sets an unreasonable expectation that someone might actually be able to talk to you in a phone call. I'm sure that this is specific to where I live (Which is like... some sort of telecommunications black hole) and that they probably suck less elsewhere.

    Sprint actually has an OK signal here, but I could never get their fucking self-service web page to let me log in. There are a couple of places in town where you get no signal

  • verizon vs t-mobile (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They are exact opposites among 4 major carriers, each is best on its own accord:

    Verizon - best coverage, fastest internet, but uses CDMA so cannot use phone abroad, they charge arm and leg for everything, including $30/mo for SMS (tmobile offers it for free), they will happily cripple your phone for no reason, and generally many people try to stay away from it.

    T-Mobile - best prices on contract, GSM network, allows to bring your own phone and gives a monthly discount if you do. Was the first carrier to offe

  • I can't speak for the entire U.S. It seems that carriers focus on different regions of the country. I traveled quite a bit over the past 7 years and here is my experience.

    I have the best coverage with Verizon. Speeds were consistent and good. In the New England area, I get 4 or 5 bars where ever I go.

    In New England, AT&T just sucks. It sucks on speed and coverage. Drive two miles of the freeway in New Hampshire or Vermont, and signals are spotty. In the metro Boston area, I can't drive 5 miles on the fr

  • T-mobile (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrsam (12205) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:40PM (#41533831) Homepage

    Buy an unlocked GSM phone, and activate it on T-mobile. Or, keep the one you have, if it can handle US frequencies.

    Of the four national US carries (small regional carriers typically piggy-back on the big nationals), only AT&T and T-mobile are GSM. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA.

    Over ten years ago I dropped AT&T after their network became too saturated, and became pretty much unusable. From what I hear, things haven't changed.

    Verizon and AT&T have the largest network and best, fastest coverages; but if you're moving to a large, populated, city, T-mobile's coverage will probably be as best as the bigger guys. Out in less-populated areas, far away from the civilization, Verizon's going to be only game in town; sometimes it's AT&T.

    Sprint falls somewhere in the middle between Verizon/AT&T, and T-mobile, who is the smallest, but I think they're the most friendly to people who prefer to use their own, unlocked phone, and have very low tolerance for US cell carrier B.S. They even used to have discounted plans for people who bring their own unlocked phones, but I don't think they do that anymore. They do have "pre-paid" plans, which seem to be a bit cheaper.

    There's no such thing as an unlocked CDMA phone, so with Verizon or Sprint you have to buy one from them, when you buy service. Verizon is notorious for feature-castrating their phones. It's been my experience that "Bluetooth" on Verizon's castrated phones only means a wireless headphone. That's it. No bluetooth file transfer/browsing, no other Bluetooth profiles. If you want to load your own MP3 ringtone, you can only get them on the phone by buying them from Verizon. Sometimes, I heard a rumor that some Verizon phones let you configure an MP3 ringtone that you've transferred over USB, but, it's been my experience that the UI on Verizon's phones do not let you select an uploaded/copied ringtone.

    I've been happy on T-mobile for the last ~10 years. They don't care what phone I use, I just pop in a SIM, and off I go. I finally decided to get a data plan as a back-up for my wired broadband, since I telecommute. Set it up, then twiddled a bit with my phone, and had it set up tethering without any issues. From what I heard, if you want to tether with the bigger carriers, you're likely end up getting charged extra, on top of paying for the data. Utter bullshit. From what I've heard, they've been getting bitch-slapped recently, on that account, because, supposedly they're not allowed to do that anymore, as a condition for buying some recently-auctioned wireless spectrum. Whatever, I don't care.

    As far as prices go, the differences between the carriers are pretty much negligible. The only other thing is: T-mobile, themselves, does not sell Iphones; but if you get an unlocked GSM one, shouldn't be too difficult to activate it. Verizon and AT&T are the primary carriers of Iphone in the US. I think Sprint might be selling them too, though.

    • It's been my experience that "Bluetooth" on Verizon's castrated phones only means a wireless headphone. That's it. No bluetooth file transfer/browsing, no other Bluetooth profiles.

      It may have changed, but this is exactly why I left Verizon ~10 years ago and vowed I'd never return. I took great satisfaction in writing them a letter telling them exactly that, although I doubt anyone of importance ever read it.

      I've since been with T-Mobile, then AT&T prepaid, now T-Mobile prepaid.

      Of the three, T-Mobile has the best customer service... but I still wouldn't call it great service; just not-as-bad-as-the-other-guys service. Their support people genuinely try to be helpful, which wasn't

  • by Kurt Granroth (9052) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:49PM (#41533897)

    Each of the three major carriers are good is some ways and terrible in others. It all depends on what your priorities are.

    Verizon has the best overall coverage US-wide. I've been to many areas that didn't have AT&T or T-Mobile coverage but have never found a place that didn't have Verizon coverage. That's about it.

    AT&T has the fastest data speeds in most of the areas that it does cover (3G or LTE). Also, you can use data and voice at the same time on all of their smartphones right now. They are also less expensive than Verizon in most cases. Coverage is worse, though.

    T-Mobile has ultra-low prices and the best customer service. Worst coverage and slow data speeds, though.

    Oh, and there's Sprint. No idea if they will even be around this time next year.

    I've been with all four. I'm with AT&T right now since I don't need Verizon's roaming coverage and would rather pay less and have faster speeds now.

  • Verizon, Hands Down (Score:5, Informative)

    by matthaak (707485) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:54PM (#41533943) Homepage Journal
    There's much discussion of coverage and speed. Where I live, near Chicago, Verizon can't be beat. But the bigger thing for me is that their Customer Service is very good. I could not believe when I got my iPhone 5 a couple of days ago and had trouble activating it, I called Verizon and was speaking with a good english speaker in less than a minute. This was with millions of people getting the iPhone 5 (probably a good portion of them on Verizon.) My wife just had to call their tech support because her 4S wasn't getting on 3G. Again, she was speaking to someone within less than a minute who was knowledgable. Ironically, as I write this, it turns out the 3G network is down. But Verizon outages like this are very rare and in this day in age of complete crap support and idiot agents, I'd almost rather have a day of outage every year supported by decent people than only an hour supported by morons.
  • I've gone to a smartphone run as a wifi-only SIP VOIP phone, it works where there is wifi (many places) and costs nothing. Cellular service in the U.S. is hopeless.

  • Why can't I mod this article/story flamebait?

  • Pigeons will soon be the more secure method of communication.

    Leave Your Cellphone at Home [nplusonemag.com]

    The NSA Is Building the Countryâ(TM)s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) [wired.com]

  • I have had ATT for a while and found it particularly frustrating. The "4G" is unreliable and even if you have several bars you can have zero data throughput. I travel frequently to LA and Florida and had poor service both places. Last LA trip we had a biz dinner at a place near the beach and I had no service, my buddy had full Verizon LTE.

    Switched the iPhone 5 about a week ago and went to Verizon and its insanely better. LTE feels about as fast as WiFi at home, and actually faster than some hotel WiFis.
  • OP, what are you hoping to get from this Ask Slashdot that you couldn't get from doing your own research? What next, "how do I fix my computer?".

  • by Orphaze (243436) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:48PM (#41534231) Homepage

    If you define best as in most reliable coverage, the answer tends to be Verizon regardless of the city in question. This is doubly true as soon as you get into more rural areas, but it's worthwhile in the city as well. (ie, Slightly less likelihood of losing signal in elevators, inside buildings, etc.. than AT&T or T-mobile. Call quality also tends to be better, with less distortions and other weirdness in my experience.)

    For what it's worth, I've also found Verizon's support to be quite good. I'm not sure why all the vitriolic posts about them; every time I've needed them (maybe 4-5 times over the past half decade?), their support has been prompt and helpful, even for weird things like playing musical chairs with phones in an account while simultaneously preserving all upgrade/contract dates. It is also all US-based, and has great hours well into the evening. What more do you want, especially in this day and age of overseas, outsourced support from India that you can barely understand?

    Verizon knows they are the best though, and thus rapes your wallet in every conceivable way as a result. If money is your bottom line, don't even look at them. Go with T-mobile or even AT&T. If however you want the best coverage and quality of service, Verizon is the way to go in most places.

  • by Eightbitgnosis (1571875) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:50PM (#41534243) Homepage
    $30 a month buys 300 minutes, unlimited texting, and unlimited 3g/4g (throttled after 2.5 gigs)
  • by vovin (12759)

    Bring your phone from korea. It will work on ATT. Get a pre-paid straight talk SIM but do NOT use over 2GB of data/mo. They have a very lame hard limit grrr.
    If you have a penta-band (Galaxy Nexus is the only I know off hand) then the T-Mo options for a data lopsided plan is fine if you don't take voice calls (100 min/mo is designed to be too little, of course). But the 5GB of data is sweet, esp since it just gets throttled to edge if you pass it.
    If you feel the need to overpay for your phone on a lame contr

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:02AM (#41534305) Homepage
    All of them.
  • Mainly because it was Cingular when I started there, and they haven't yet pissed me off enough to bother going through the effort of switching. I am unable to tell you about the nuts and bolts of my plan because it really just doesn't interest me and I'm too lazy to open another tab and track down the details. This is what I know of it, though:

    - I can't comment about dropped calls, simply because I hardly ever use the thing as an actual phone. On the rare occasion that I do use it as a phone, I push a f

  • You left in 2005 or so and there were no smart phones? I bought my first in 1998, and it wasn't even that novel, though it was WindowsCE (nothing makes you wince like WinCE). I used VoiceStream and had no problems with calls or speed. The biggest problem was having to pay for Opera Mobile at the time.

    But as my subject says, coverage is a local issue. Some are great on one part of town, and horrible on another. So asking the world about what to get when you move to the US is like asking which gas stati
  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @08:55AM (#41537073) Homepage Journal

    Because it frees you from having to use a phone at all. You can stick your head out the window and shout at more people than mere 'phones' on Sprint can reach.

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