Cellular Phone Companies

Verizon Wireless sweeps nearly every award in nearly every test and survey listed in Our Sources. It outclasses all other nationwide carriers in terms of call quality (J. D. Power and Associates), 4G data speed (PC World, Computerworld and Laptop Magazine) and coverage (PCMag. com) — and now it’s got the iPhone. “Holy crap, you sound so much better,” a friend told Wired reviewer Brian X. Chen when he switched to the Verizon iPhone. “That’s amazing. I can actually hear you.

” Unlike the much-maligned AT&T network, “The Verizon device lives up to the promise that yes, really, you’re going to be able to make a phone call with your iPhone 4,” Engadget. com’s Joshua Topolsky says. ‘”After a couple of days of use, the fear that normally sets in about five minutes into a connected call with an AT&T iPhone all but disappeared. ” Verizon does suffer from slower 3G data speeds than AT&T, but reviewers say it’s superior in every other way. Customer service gets iffy ratings: Verizon Wireless scores above average for customer service at J. D.

Power and Associates, but average or below in other big customer surveys. Other reviewers use words like “evil” and “sneaky” to describe Verizon Wireless’s business practices. The Federal Communications Commission started questioning Verizon in late 2009 after The New York Times’ David Pogue and many other customers complained that the company charged them $1. 99 every time they accidentally hit an awkwardly placed arrow key on their phones, thereby launching a preset web function they didn’t want. (Verizon denied it at first, but in late 2010 refunded millions of dollars to its customers.

) The FCC also questioned why Verizon Wireless doubled its early-termination fee for smartphone users to $350. Verizon replied that it charges the big fee to recoup the money it spent — on advertising, sales commissions and store costs — to sign up the customer in the first place. Cost is the other major drawback: Reviewers say Verizon Wireless tends to charge more for fewer minutes on its cell phone plans. For example, its $40 Nationwide Basic plan includes 450 anytime minutes — 50 fewer than T-Mobile’s $40 plan.

Unlimited talk, text and web costs $120 per month with Verizon Wireless, but $100 with Sprint. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile trail Verizon Wireless in reviews Although no other national carrier comes anywhere near Verizon Wireless’ cell phone plans in reviews, each one has its strengths, reviewers say. Sprint (*Est. $30 per month and up) offers the second-best 4G network, reviewers say. Although Sprint’s 4G data speeds lag behind Verizon’s in tests, PC World notes that “unlimited data makes Sprint’s 4G a haven for data hogs” (Verizon imposes data caps).

Sprint charges less, too — its unlimited-everything cell-phone plan costs $100 per month, versus $120 for Verizon — but be careful: Customers say Sprint’s call quality is great in some cities and regions but iffy in others. Unimpressive call quality is T-Mobile’s (*Est. $40 per month and up) main flaw, too. It earns the lowest possible score for call quality in every region of the country in J. D. Power and Associates’ latest survey. Its 3G and 4G data speeds lag behind competitors’ in tests. On the other hand, T-Mobile outclasses all other national cell-phone carriers when it comes to customer service (it’s No.1 at both J.

D. Power and PCMag. com) and value. For example, its entry-level $40-per-month cell-phone plan gets you 500 anytime minutes, plus unlimited nights and weekends — 50 more minutes than Verizon’s $40 cell phone plan. AT&T (*Est. $40 per month and up) is Verizon’s biggest rival — but it scrapes the bottom of major customer surveys, with lower scores for customer service, call quality, coverage, data service and value. AT&T does win nationwide 3G data speed tests at PC World and Gizmodo. com, but Laptop Magazine gives it an “F” for slow real-world 4G speeds (AT&T plans to launch an improved 4G network in mid-2011).

In a final blow, AT&T now has to share rights to the Apple iPhone with Verizon Wireless — and tests at Wired and Engadget. com confirm that yes, Verizon iPhones get better coverage and fewer dropped calls. U. S. Cellular: Best regional wireless carrier While Verizon Wireless ranks highest overall nationally, reviewers say U. S. Cellular (*Est. $30 per month and up) is a particularly strong carrier in the 26 states it serves, mostly in the Midwest. Its boasts the best call quality in the North Central region for the ninth straight survey period at J. D. Power and Associates. U. S.

Cellular rivals Verizon Wireless for nationwide coverage and call quality (which makes sense, as U. S. Cellular contracts with the Verizon network), with lower prices, better cell phone plans and the best customer support in the business, according to PCMag. com. A third major customer survey agrees, awarding U. S. Cellular first place overall and the highest possible ratings for customer service, problem-free calls and value. U. S. Cellular customers (on all national plans except the most basic $30 one) roam for free on the Verizon Wireless network, with voice and 3G data service that nearly blanket the nation.

U. S. Cellular customers enjoy a nice price perk, too: All incoming calls, texts and picture/video messages are free, so you only get charged (or use minutes) for those you send. Additional benefits can be had by joining U. S. Cellular’s Belief Project (free), a program in which you can earn loyalty points that can be used for various perks. Two drawbacks: U. S. Cellular offers no 4G data coverage, and it offers fewer handset choices than the national carriers — although with the latest Android and BlackBerry smartphones, it’s no slouch, either.