Deciding on a cellular network can be confusing. Each one says they're the fastest, best, and most reliable, but what is the truth?
If you've ruled out AT&T and Verizon and are deciding between the Sprint and T-Mobile networks then you're in the right place.
One of the most important factors involved in choosing your cell carrier is network coverage. You want to be sure that you'll be able to stream video, send text messages, and talk on your phone in the areas where you live and travel.
In this guide, I'm going to show you the Sprint network compares to T-Mobile in terms of coverage, including a look at T-Mobile vs Sprint data speeds. Best of all I'm going to tell you how to get a great deal on service on these two networks without paying for pricey packages like the Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan.
Network Coverage Comparison
Without coverage, you can't make a phone call. With spotty coverage, you may face a dropped call. So how do T-Mobile and Sprint stack up when it comes to coverage and network reliability?
T-Mobile LTE coverage boils down to this: it's the fastest network out of the four major carriers, with the weakest rural performance. In other words, as long as you don't live in a remote area, you'll get awesome, lightning-fast service.
That said, T-Mobile is deploying the use of a new radio frequency which will provide better 4G LTE coverage to rural areas. The process is expected to take a few years to complete.
Weak/No Coverage Areas:
- Spotty areas through the South and Northeast
- Large portions of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada
- Streaks down the east and northwest areas of California
Keep in mind that on all of the carrier coverage maps, weak areas are often very sparsely populated or not populated at all.
Sprint coverage is generally considered to be the patchiest of the big four wireless carriers. The network has made strides, however. According to CNET, Sprint has "improved its network speeds and reliability thanks to the further deploy of Sprint Spark, its name for the use of three different bands of radio airwaves for better coverage."
All this means is that - thanks to Sprint Spark - network reliability as well as upload and download speeds are better. And that's a good thing, right? No one wants slow speeds!
Furthermore, Sprint has since gone beyond metro areas and has been heading into smaller, more remote areas.
Weak/No Coverage Areas:
- Spotty areas of the Midwest and West, from the Dakotas to Nevada
- Non-metropolitan areas of California
- Widespread spotty areas throughout the middle South and New England
Sprint's strong point is its solid LTE network in large metropolitan areas. The network excels in highly populated locales, with less reliable wireless coverage throughout the Great Plains and western states.
When it comes to data speed and 4G LTE availability, Sprint lags behind T-Mobile. The two measure up as follows, according to OpenSignal's State of the Mobile Network report:
Average download rate at 4G speeds:
- T-Mobile - 19.42 Mbps
- Sprint - 12.02 Mbps
Average download rate at 3G speeds:
- T-Mobile - 3.46 Mbps
- Sprint - 1 Mbps
OpenSignal also found that Sprint users have a 4G LTE signal 85.7% of the time compared to T-Mobile's impressive 93.1%.
How to Switch to a Big Network Without Paying Big Prices
Remember back at the beginning when I said I'd tell you how to get premium cell service at cheaper rates? Now's the time, and it's not as tricky as you might think.
If you've heard of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) then you already know the key to getting cheap cell phone service on the best networks in the United States. These small carriers have gone through big growth over the past few years, and you're the one who can reap the benefits.
Why use a MVNO?
- Cheaper rates - alternative providers lease bandwidth from the big guys and sell to you at much lower prices.
- No contract - you're not tied into a commitment so if you don't like the carrier, you can switch any time with no early termination fees.
- Customized packages - pay only for what you really need.
- Simple switching process - everything is usually done right online, from ordering SIM cards to activation.
- Keep your number and phone - no need to change your phone number or buy a new phone.
- Customer Support - strong customer support ratings mean you're not compromising on service.
You're probably wondering what kinds of plans and pricing these carriers offer. You may be surprised to learn that many MVNOs offer even more variety than the big four carriers. We have produced detailed guides on Sprint MVNOs and T-Mobile MVNOs.
Sometimes you just want the bare minimum. It's tough to beat alternative carriers when it comes to cheap cell phone plans. Here are just a couple of your options on the T-Mobile and Sprint networks.
- Tello (on the Sprint network): 300 minutes, unlimited texts, 500 MB 4G LTE data - $11 per month
- Mint Mobile (on the T-Mobile network): Unlimited calling and texting, 2 GB 4G LTE data - $15
Prepaid cell phone plans are a great way to avoid unwanted late or overage fees. What you pay upfront includes taxes and fees - which means no unexpected costs.
- Twigby (Sprint): 1000 minutes, unlimited texting, 4 GB 4G LTE data - $28.50 (for six months, then goes to $38)
- TPO Mobile (T-Mobile): Unlimited texts and calls, 2 GB high-speed data - $25
Unlimited Data Plans
According to Statista, the average amount of data used per person worldwide was 2.8 GB in 2017. Few people actually need an unlimited data plan. This is especially true if you do most of your data gobbling activities, like streaming high definition video, at home on the Wi-Fi.
Still, there are unlimited data plans available if you decide the option is right for you.
- Tello (Sprint): Unlimited talk and text, 10 GB 4G LTE data, unlimited 2G data after 4G allotment is used - $39
- Ultra Mobile (T-Mobile): Unlimited talk, text, and data - $49 (speeds may be throttled after 30 GB of 4G LTE)
When it comes to family plans, MVNOs have a lot to offer. Most alternative carriers don't sell their plans as a traditional family package, but that doesn't mean you won't save big.
- Ting (Sprint & T-Mobile): Ting offers extensive customization so you can choose just what your family needs. All features are shared among the lines. For example, get four lines, 1000 minutes, 10,000 texts, and 12 GB of high-speed data for $186 per month.
- Mint Mobile (T-Mobile): Four lines, each with unlimited calling, text messaging, and 5 GB of 4G data - $80
Many MVNOs offer add-ons like international calling, HD video streaming, and LTE hotspot data, so be sure to comb through the details of your chosen plan.
Customer service is crucial to all companies. There's nothing worse than being on hold for an hour, speaking with a customer service rep, and not having your problem resolved.
Naturally one of your biggest concerns about using a small cellular provider may be customer support. Cheap cell phone plans are nice and all, but if you can't get the help you need when you need it then you're probably not going to be very happy.
What you will be happy about is that MVNOs boast some of the highest ratings for customer satisfaction, according to Consumer Reports. In fact, none of the big four carriers made it to the top of the list in CR's 2017 Cell-Phone Service Survey, yet Ting fell within the top three.
You can switch to a smaller carrier with confidence, knowing that you're likely to get better, more personalized service than with a huge corporation.
The era of "free" cellphones is over, and now you're paying up to $30 per month in device installments to your carrier just to have the latest, greatest smartphone. Since you're ready to save money on your cell phone plan, why not shave some dollars off the phone budget as well?
If your phone is still perfectly functional, there's really not much reason to invest up to $1,000 in a new one. Keeping your device until you really need a newer one is the best way to save money on a smartphone.
Luckily it's easy to bring your own phone to most MVNOs:
- Make sure your device is unlocked (it needs to be paid off and you must be free of a contract).
- Choose your carrier.
- Visit the provider's website to check device compatibility.
- Order your new service kit then swap the SIM cards out.
- Follow the carrier's activation instructions.
Check out our guide on how to unlock your phone.
If you're ready for a different phone, consider refurbished. Many sites sell used smartphones for way less than new. You can use these companies to easily sell your old phone as well. Compare deals using our convenient used phone comparison tool.
The wireless industry is changing drastically, and this is a good thing for you as the consumer. The plans offered by MVNOs are more affordable, more flexible, and give you calling, texting and data on the same reliable networks as Sprint or T-Mobile.
Don't forget to check out our comparison tool of cheap cell phone plans to see all the best deal. Finally, if you want to see all four networks compared, read our guide on "Who Has the Best Cell Phone Coverage?"