written by: Faith Oh•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/16/2011
Which cell phone company in the U.S. is the best cell phone carrier? What criteria should be used to decide? Read on for cell phone carriers ratings and a comparison of cell phone carriers to help you decide which carrier to go with.
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Of the main cell phone carriers available in the U.S., you may find it difficult to choose which company to go with. Various factors like coverage, nationwide or local service, roaming fees, available selection of phones and costs, affordability of plans and customer service come into play. These factors have been taken into consideration in providing the cell phone carriers ratings below.
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A comparison of cell phone carriers in the U.S. clearly puts Verizon Wireless at the top of the pack. It has the most extensive network and is the largest provider with the most subscribers. Verizon also consistently ranks high in customer service in various surveys including J.D. Power and Associates, Top Ten Reviews and CNET. The company has a wide selection of phones and offers two-year contracts with various discounts on the phones, some for almost free. There are a number of individual, family and data plans as well as other specialty plans. The cheapest individual plan for the average phone customer costs $40 a month while the cheapest family plan costs $70 a month. For those who may have questionable credit and do not qualify for multiyear contracts, Verizon's prepaid service can be an option, especially in areas where other prepaid carriers do not have excellent coverage. Verizon also offers 3G internet and data service in urban areas and their 4G LTE network is currently the fastest available.
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AT&T, formerly known as Cingular Wireless, is the nation's second largest carrier and unarguably provides the largest and most sophisticated selection of phones. It was the first to offer some of the more technologically advanced smartphones and was, for a long time, the only provider that offered the Apple iPhone. It is also has a nationwide coverage area comparable, if not equal, to Verizon's and has the added advantage of providing rollover minutes with its plans. The company offers quite a number of individual and family plans starting at $40 and also offers prepaid service and prepaid phones. AT&T has 3G high speed Internet service with a variety of data plans for both phones and computers but this is restricted to cities. AT&T also offers the most extensive international coverage because its phones use GSM technology.
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Sprint-Nextel, the country's third largest carrier also has extensive nationwide coverage, a large selection of phones and a variety of individual and family plans starting at $30. It was also one of the first carriers to popularize mobile 3G Internet service for laptops, which is of course most common in urban areas. Sprint lags behind the other two carriers in customer satisfaction. Prospective customers who do not meet the company's credit criteria are often asked to put down a deposit. Sprint has a wide selection of phones and discounts and has started to roll out 4G phones.
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There are other smaller providers who may not have extensive national coverage like those listed above but provide good and affordable service, especially valuable in tough economic times. These providers also have excellent prepaid monthly plans that make the whole idea of contract plans even laughable. They include Cricket, Boost Mobile (owned by Sprint) and Virgin Mobile.