There's a lot to consider when it comes to picking the best mobile phone networks. Great urban coverage isn't useful if you live in a rural area and perfect coast-to-coast 4G LTE networks might too expensive or have hidden fees. This list shares some pros and cons for the top national cell phone networks, including plan pricing and reliability.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are there are four major mobile phone networks in the USA, but the more regional U.S. Cellular and the mobile virtual network operator TracFone offer competitive coverage.
Out of the major phone networks, Verizon offers the broadest 4G network, with 81% U.S. cell phone coverage. AT&T and T-Mobile are a step behind, with 66% and 58% 4G coverage, respectively. Sprint trails behind with 29% 4G coverage. As robust as some of these networks are, it's important to check how strong the coverage is for the areas you live and travel to regularly, as even the 19% not covered by Verizon can be a lot if that's where you live and work.
Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), like TracFone, don't own the infrastructure they provide services with but have agreements with the national networks to obtain access to their coverage. Out of all the MNVOs, TracFone uses the most networks, partnering with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon to offer some of the strongest coverage and widest range of service options. As a prepaid wireless service, they do not offer the same unlimited plan options as the national networks, but the flexibility of their cellular plans and add-on options makes them a good choice for people who know how much service they need a month. Many customers also appreciate the ease of bringing their own phones into prepaid service plans.
Although U.S. Cellular is technically a regional operator, they operate the United States' fifth-largest wireless telecommunications network. Offering national 3G coverage, they're expanding a more limited LTE 4G network and although they have a more limited network they're one of the primary options for many rural areas.
Something to consider when deciding what phone networks offer the best coverage is how fast their speeds are and if there are data caps. Even if you have all your bars, slow data rates can put a cramp in calling, texting, and browsing. If you regularly stream video, from Netflix to FaceTime, it's worth making sure your network provider doesn't cap your data use or force your speeds to slow once you've passed your monthly data quota. People who live in areas of high data congestion, like cities and metropolitan areas, have a higher chance of finding their data limited as networks balance the demand on their cell towers.
Although there's a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the best phone network for you, some companies stand out. Including plan options, 4G coverage, data rates, and data caps, what are the best phone networks in the United States?
- Offers up to 11Mbps download, 3.5 Mbps upload
- Has good reliability and speed in both urban and rural areas
- More awards from J.D.Power than any other carrier 21 times in a row
- One of the most expensive networks (unlimited plans range from $75-500, not counting fees and taxes)
- Non-refundable clause
- Good coverage in urban and metro areas
- Offers some of the lower coverage plans (unlimited plans range from $70 to $160, taxes and fees included)
- Wide device selection options
- Slower lines in areas of congestion, if you exceed 50GB LTE data in a month
- Poor suburban and rural coverage
- Covers 99% of all U.S. licensed and roaming areas
- Drops less than 1% of calls according to third-party testing
- Wide device selection options
- LTE services in over 650 markets, with data rates averaging over 7Mbps
- One of the most expensive networks (unlimited plans range from $65-$340)
- Unlimited data
- Has some of the cheapest coverage plans (unlimited plans range from $60-100, not counting fees and taxes)
- Slower lines in areas of congestion, if you exceed 23GB LTE data in a month
- Average speed only 4.4 Mbps