For years, Verizon and T-Mobile USA have been at each other's throats, striving for the number one position and the attention of consumers throughout the nation.
How do you decide which network is best for you? Just as important - how do you get the best price on cell phone service on the T-Mobile and Verizon networks?
I'm going to answer both of these questions and show you the coverage maps for both carriers. I'll also address customer service, plans and pricing, and the cheapest smartphone solutions. Stay tuned!
Network Coverage Comparison
Verizon Wireless has long enjoyed the top spot as far as coverage, reliability, and speed. The network serves nearly 99% of populated areas across the nation. With its deployment of the LTE in Rural America Program in 2010 Big Red expanded its coverage to include many areas previously lacking a 4G LTE signal.
Even though Verizon has the most extensive LTE network in America you'll still want to assess the Verizon coverage map to ensure that the provider has service in your area.
Weak/No Coverage Areas:
- Non-metropolitan areas of Alaska.
- Spots throughout the middle South and Northeast.
- Larger areas across the western US and along the west coast.
Read More: Check out our article on How to Switch to Verizon.
The T-Mobile network is holding its own in the wireless coverage wars. Urban reception is the network's sweet spot, and the provider has recently purchased space on a lower wireless frequency in order to expand rural reception.
As you can see on the T-Mobile coverage map below, the coverage actually looks very similar to the Verizon network, with LTE coverage in most of the same areas of the U.S.
Weak/No Coverage Areas:
- Minimal spotty areas throughout the Northeast, South, and Midwest.
- Larger areas of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington.
- Stretches of the east, west, and northwestern areas of California.
You can see in the above T-Mobile vs Verizon coverage maps that both major carriers provide towers throughout most of the nation. But what is the quality of that service?
Percentage of time with 4G LTE reception:
- T-Mobile - 93.1%
- Verizon - 92.7%
Average 4G download speeds:
- T-Mobile - 19.42 Mbps
- Verizon - 17.77 Mbps
These metrics are courtesy of OpenSignal, which crowdsources data on wireless coverage and reliability.
It may seem from these numbers that the T-Mobile LTE network is the obvious choice. It depends on whom you ask, however. RootMetrics, which creates its own data rather than crowdsourcing, rates Verizon at the top in every category.
Ultimately the decision comes down to which network offers the best reception in your area and wherever you travel to regularly, as well as the right plan costs and features.
Read More: Check out our guide on how to switch to T-Mobile.
How to Switch to a Big Network without Paying Big Prices
Now we're going to get down to the nuts and bolts you've been waiting for - how to save money on your cell phone service.
If you've seen ads for companies like Mint Mobile or Twigby then you already know the secret to cheap cell phone plans. These smaller mobile carriers are called MVNOs - Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They buy space on the major carriers' towers and sell it to you for an affordable price.
Let me answer your next question, which is likely to be "why would I do that instead of just paying the big guys for the same service?" There are many reasons!
Why Go With a MVNO?
- They're cheaper than the major carriers because they don't have the expensive overhead or marketing costs.
- They have no-contract plans and no early termination fees. Leave the carrier whenever you want (but we don't think you'll want to!).
- It's easy to keep your phone number and device.
- Sign-up is painless - usually completely online. Simply swap SIM cards.
- Choose only the amount of data, minutes, and text messaging you actually need - and only pay for that.
- Customer support is top-notch and often available seven days a week - sometimes 24 hours a day.
Alternative carriers have come a long way since they entered the market in the 1990s. They now offer competitive service on the best wireless networks at great prices.
T-Mobile vs Verizon Phone Plans
Whether you just need a single line or more of a family plan, you'll find a wide range of options among MVNOs. We have produced detailed guides for T-Mobile MVNOs and Verizon MVNOs. Below we highlight just a few of the better options available.
Cheap Cell Phone Plans
Looking for the basics? Here are examples of what you'll find on both of these reliable networks.
- TPO Mobile (on the T-Mobile network): 500 minutes, 500 texts, 250 MB high-speed data - $10 per month
- Twigby (on the Verizon network): 500 minutes, unlimited text messaging, 500 MB data - $12.75 (goes up to $17 after six months)
Prepaid plans come with only a 30-day commitment, so you don't have to worry about long contracts or early termination fees.
- Mint Mobile (T-Mobile): Unlimited talk and texts, 2 GB 4G data - $15
- Twigby (Verizon): Unlimited calling and texting, 2 GB 4G LTE data - $22.50 (goes up to $30 after six months)
Unlimited Data Plans
If you're a heavy user of data-gobbling apps you may want to check out unlimited data plans from MVNOs.
- Ultra Mobile (T-Mobile): Unlimited everything (you may experience throttled data after 30 GB of 4G LTE usage) - $49
- US Mobile (Verizon): Unlimited everything (speeds slow after 12 GB used at LTE speeds) - $46
Before you jump in on an unlimited plan, however, use our data calculator to make sure you actually need one. Most smartphone users go through less than 3 GB of data per month, which means that you could save money by knowing what you use.
Alternative carriers also offer add-ons and extra features like LTE hotspot data and international calling. Be sure to look at plan details to make sure the carrier offers what you need.
If you've got a houseful of phone users, you want the best value you can get on multiple lines.
Ultra Mobile (T-Mobile): Four lines with unlimited talk and text and 1 GB shareable 4G data - $50 (add more data for $10 per GB or $20 per 3 GB)
Twigby (Verizon): Four lines with unlimited talk and text, 4 GB of 4G LTE data each - $120 (goes up to $160 after six months)
If you frequent your locally owned businesses you probably do so - in part, at least - because you get better, more personal customer service.
The same holds true when it comes to the smaller wireless carriers. Customer satisfaction rates are high, adding to the value these alternative providers can offer you.
In the past, most wireless service rating surveys have separated the major carriers from MVNOs. This methodology makes it impossible to compare the two against each other. This time around, however, Consumer Reports lumped everyone together in its 2017 Cell-Phone Service Survey, giving us a solid look at how MVNOs measure up.
The results? Alternative carriers took the top three spots and were the only companies to get the highest rating for customer support.
Whether you choose a Verizon or a T-Mobile MVNO, you'll need something to use for all of that calling, texting, and HD video streaming.
If you're used to paying an extra $30 a month on your cell phone bill just to have the latest smartphone every year, it might be time to end that expensive cycle. Here are two great ways to do so.
Bring Your Own Device
MVNOs are very BYOP (bring your own phone) friendly. New iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models don't change that much from year to year. Why not save several hundred dollars by hanging onto yours a little longer?
Keeping your phone is simple:
- Choose a carrier.
- Check the website to make sure your device is compatible.
- Order your activation kit and swap out the SIM cards.
- Activate your new service according to the provider's instructions.
Just make sure your phone is paid off and unlocked. If you need to know how to unlock your device we've got you covered.
Buy a Refurbished Smartphone
Buying a used cell phone just makes sense. We buy used cars in order to save money and extend the life of durable goods. Smartphones aren't much different, plus buying used or refurbished devices saves you hundreds in the long run.
For example, you can buy a new Samsung Galaxy S9 for $800. Or, you can buy a refurbished Galaxy S7 with a 12-month limited warranty from Decluttr.com for $257. That's quite a difference!
With all of the major wireless networks so close in coverage and reliability, it's up to you to decide which one works better for you. One thing is crystal clear, though - MVNOs give you the same quality service for much less money.
Finally, to see all the best plans side-by-side, use our comparison tool to find a cheap cell phone plan.