Does Your Cell Phone Plan Meet Your Lifestyle Needs?

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The research firm RootMetrics recently completed its latest performance study of the nation’s wireless service providers, and the results probably won’t astound you: Verizon and AT&T consistently outperformed their smaller counterparts Sprint and T-Mobile, with Verizon taking top honors nationwide, statewide and even in metro areas. Verizon also topped its competitors in network reliability, network speed, data performance and call performance, with AT&T placing second in each of those categories as well.

RootMetrics’ tests are widely regarded as among the most comprehensive in the U.S. mobile industry. For the latest recent review, company staffers drove 288,888 miles to perform 5.7 million tests in 125 markets across all 50 states. And while the latest figures reinforce the widely held belief that the nation’s two largest carriers offer the best coverage and highest quality connections, they also indicate Sprint and T-Mobile have made impressive strides in upgrading their networks in the era of LTE.

You Get What You Pay For, But What Do You Need?

Verizon and AT&T generally offer some of the most expensive pricing plans on the market, so it might seem logical that they would operate the best networks. Rather than simply switching to (or sticking with) one of the two dominant players, though, consumers should consider a few factors when choosing a carrier:

choosing a cell phone carrier infographic
  • Coverage where you live and work. I constantly struggled to get a good connect with Verizon when I moved into my 100-year-old house in central Denver a few years ago, but I found that T-Mobile’s coverage in my neighborhood is consistently solid. Also, I work from home and when I’m on the road I’m almost always in the major urban areas that T-Mobile has focused on in recent years. Users who are constantly in the car or flying from city to city may need the coverage that Verizon (or AT&T) can offer, but T-Mobile suits my needs well and does so for less than I was paying Verizon.
  • The best price for what you want. High-end users who devour data on their phones and simply must have the latest iPhone or high-end Android gadget probably need to avoid the small army of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that offer heavily discounted services on their partners’ networks. Conversely, consumers who use their phones primarily for texting and talking, and who aren’t constantly on the go, can save a bundle by opting for a lesser handset through a bargain-basement service provider. Additionally, determine whether carriers offer any perks that you might find particularly attractive – several providers offer Wi-Fi calling, for instance, which allows consumers to talk on their phones without it counting against their monthly minute allotments, and T-Mobile exempts streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify from monthly data allotments.
  • Competition is increasing. The U.S. smartphone market is reaching the saturation point, so carriers are increasingly looking to poach users from their competitors rather than converting existing “feature phone” (or “dumbphone”) owners to buy smartphones, which require much higher monthly plans. For now, at least, Verizon has largely been unaffected by these recent carrier wars, but AT&T has joined Sprint and T-Mobile with aggressive new pricing models for handsets, family plans and other offerings.

What Does This Mean For Me?

Vastly improved mobile networks coupled with the recent pricing wars have created new opportunities for consumers to trim their mobile budgets even as they get more from their phones than ever before. The key for users is to determine exactly what kinds of handsets and services they want, and then to find the carrier that can deliver at the best price.

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