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Best Cell Phone Provider for 2016

Looking for the best cell phone provider? We review the top cell phone companies

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Top Cell Phone Companies

There are so many factors to take into consideration when upgrading or looking for the best cell phone provider. Some of the most important elements to take into consideration are the phone's cost, coverage, and the cell phone provider's contract terms.

With these and more factors in mind, I've taken a look at some of the best cell phone companies. Here are some of the best plans to consider, if you are looking to switch.

Best Cell Phone Provider: What to Consider

Apart from the hassle and time involved, you're frequently inundated with advertisements and promotions boasting the latest technology and devices on the market. Not to mention the available phones and smartphone each cell phone provider features. Plus, choosing a plan that is right for you is vital.

A plan that is too expensive can obviously put an unnecessary strain on your finances while a cheaper plan may not have the features that you need. If you are looking for the best cell phone deals, there are a few considerations that should be at the forefront of your mind:

  • Who has the best cell phone coverage? Some cell phone services don't have comprehensive nationwide coverage.
  • What features do the best cell phone plans include? Do you have the options of unlimited talk, text, and data? Can you choose not to pay for features that you won't use?
  • Do you have to sign a contract? If so, how long is it and what kind of perks do you get for signing up?
  • Are there prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans available?

With these considerations, you can find the best cell phone company for your area and your specific needs.

The Best Cell Phone Providers

I've narrowed down the best wireless carriers to these five options. Take a look at the pros and cons of each to see which of the top cell phone companies is the best for you.

Verizon Wireless Phones Review

  • Pros
  • Offers both contract and pre-paid plans
  • Nationwide and international coverage
  • Good customer service
  • Supports the top phones and smartphones
  • Large 4G and 4G LTE coverage area
  • Cons
  • Contracts come with certain fees

Verizon Wireless is one of the best cell phone service providers in the nation with coverage in all 50 states. They have the size and infrastructure to accommodate quality service. Another plus is the wide variety of cell phone plans you have to choose from so that you can find a plan that specifically fits your need. Also they have both contractual plans and pre-paid plans available. However, the most popular and accommodating plans come with a contract.

In terms of the phones themselves, Verizon supports all of the latest smartphones which you can get for free or discounted when you sign up or renew a contract.

Customer service is excellent and is available 24/7 by phone. You can also visit any one of the many local stores for assistance. On customer reviews site, many consumers note that they were pleased with the level of customer service that they were provided. However, a few reviewers didn't experience the same quality of service and wrote that they were frustrated with certain representatives.

Another aspect of the service that consumers enjoyed was, of course, the coverage. Even customers that wrote negative reviews couldn't help but to comment on Verizon's reliable cell phone coverage.

One drawback to choosing Verizon is the fees that come with many plans and contracts. You may get charge for the early termination of a contract, activation, or going over data limits if your plan is not unlimited. Some consumer reviewers wrote that they were charged a fee and never told why.

As you compare cell phone plans, Verizon is a great place to start. Verizon tops this list because it combines the best cell phone coverage with great customer service. Not to mention the variety of choices you get when signing up for a plan. With the sheer size and capabilities of this company, their service is hard to beat.

AT&T Wireless Phones Review

  • Pros
  • Offers both contract and pre-paid plans
  • Supports the top phones and smartphones
  • Nationwide and international coverage
  • Supports 4G and 4G LTE
  • Cons
  • Contracts come with certain fees

AT&T offers great nationwide cell coverage to all 50 states. However, some more remote regions might have sparse service, especially in Alaska. The company has the largest 4G network with impressively fast speeds. Plus AT&T offers a huge variety of top phones many of which support 4G and 4G LTE.

One area that AT&T excels in is with their plans. They offer all kinds of plan opportunities including, multiple individual, family, contract, and prepaid plans. Just like some of the other top cell phone service providers, AT&T offers deals on phones when you sign up or renew a contract and there are plenty of phones and activation features to choose from.

Everything from the most up to date smartphones to more simple phones are available, some of which are free with a contract. AT&T also supports all the important features that a cell phone should have like three way calling and push to talk. All of these things together mean that the company has so many options that most customers will be able to find something that fits their needs.

Unfortunately, there are some fees to deal with when you sign up for one of AT&T's contracts. You have to pay and activation fee when you begin, an early termination fee if you want to cancel prematurely, and fees for when you go over any data limits that your plan might have. However, fees like this are fairly typical among the top providers.

AT&T has several available options for reaching their customer service. If you have a problem or a question you can send them an email or chat with a live representative. Plus they have an informative website and helpful online resources if you'd like to figure things out on your own. Consumer reviews are mixed when it comes to customer service. Some report good experiences while others did not find the service helpful.

AT&T is another great cell service provider. The variety of plans, the appealing phones and features, and the comprehensive website all combine to provide a great service. The only reason AT&T is not completely equal with Verizon is that AT&T's coverage is slightly behind. However, it still provides great coverage, especially when you consider its 4G network.

Sprint Phones Review

  • Pros
  • Great individual plans
  • Informative website
  • Nationwide and international coverage
  • Supports top phones and smartphones
  • Cons
  • Contracts come with certain fees

Sprint is a quality service that was ahead of the game in many areas. They offered features like push-to-talk before some of its top competitors. Today, the company's nationwide coverage is among the top notch service providers.

Sprint offers some great prices for individual plans and their prices for smart phone plans are some of the most competitive among the top cell phone service providers. Their "Simply Everything Plan" is one of the best totally unlimited plans that you can get.

While they have some very competitive and affordable plans, the general variety of great plans to choose from is a bit more limited compared to other top companies. Their plans focus on data and most come with a contract. However, Sprint is gaining some ground in the no-contract area of the industry that they previously had no presence.

Sprint is no slouch when it comes to the selection of available phones. They have the top phones for anyone who wants the latest and the greatest smartphones or more simple phones for anyone who prefers more basic functionality.

Sprint has many avenues of support if you find that you need assistance. You can reach their customer support services by phone, email, or live chat on their website. As often is the case, consumer reviewers are split on this issue. Some experienced consistently good support while others were disappointed.

Like it's other top competitors, Sprint's contracts come with some fees like activation fees, early termination fees, and data overage fees.

Since many of Sprint's available plans are data oriented as opposed to talk and text, it is a great option if you are looking for quality 3G or 4G plans.

T-Mobile Phones Review

  • Pros
  • No contracts
  • Unique plans
  • Lower cost plans
  • Cons
  • Less compressive coverage
  • No contracts means no cheap phones

T-Mobile is, in many ways, the most unique of the top 4 US cell phone service providers. It eliminated contract plans since March 2013. This may be appealing to many customers who don't like the idea of being tethered to a plan for an extended period. Plus, the no-contract plans that they do offer include several quality features including unlimited talk, text, and data as well as family contracts. This combined with the price, makes T-Mobile one of the best unlimited cell phone plans.

However, because T-Mobile doesn't have contract plans it doesn't offer as many discounts on phones. Other top services like Verizon and AT&T provide discounted or even free phones when customers sign contracts. However, they do allow you to pay for phones with a payment plan rather than paying full price all at once.

While T-Mobile's coverage is decent and includes 4G and 4G LTE coverage, there is better quality national coverage with its competitors. Customers may have trouble finding service in more rural areas in the US. However, coverage is good in metropolitan areas.

Consumer reviews seem to agree; T-Mobile has spotty coverage but very cheap cell phone plans. Customers, enjoyed the low prices but found that they had poor coverage in certain areas. They also had mixed experiences with customer service; some liked their interactions with representatives while others had a tough time solving the problems they had.

What T-Mobile lacks in coverage it gains in plan flexibility and price. This service is a good choice for anyone who wants the freedom of a no-contract plan. Just be sure to check the reception in your area.

MetroPCS Phones Review

  • Pros
  • No fees or hidden charges
  • Unlimited 4G data plans
  • Affordable service
  • Cons
  • Poor customer service
  • Limited nationwide coverage
  • Brand is being absorbed into T-Mobile

MetroPCS is probably the most affordable option in the top 5, especially since they don't surprise you with hidden fees and charges. However, their plan and phone options are somewhat limited. You can find more comprehensive and specific plans with other top cell service providers. MetroPCS also does not offer the ever-popular iPhone, but they do offer a variety of Android devices.

There is both good news and bad news for anyone thinking about choosing MetroPCS. The company recently merged with T-Mobile, which means a few changes for current and future T-Mobile customers. The good news is that MetroPCS will be getting the network capabilities of T-Mobile and there have even been rumors that they may get the iPhone. Right now, customers can buy their own iPhones and then sign up with MetroPCS because T-Mobile's network can support it. On the other hand, MetroPCS will slowly be phasing out of existence as a brand within the next few years.

For anyone who is considering MetroPCS for the remaining years it is available, you may eventually be encouraged to switch to T-Mobile.

The affordability of the service and the fact that there are no fees make MetroPCS appealing, and because of its merging with T-Mobile it has a bigger company supporting it. However, the company is on its way out. Even if it can't be called a sinking ship, it is definitely one that is about to be retired.

Who has the Best Cell Phone Service?

Before you sign up for a new cell phone plan, you'll need to be sure that the provider has adequate coverage in your area. The best deal in the world is useless if your calls don't connect and downloads take forever. However, when it comes to the top cell phone carriers, there is a lot more to consider than the splotchy coverage maps that providers like to show in their commercials.

First, you have to consider your specific area. One cell phone provider might serve your neighborhood better than another. This can be hard to determine but there are ways to get an idea of what sort of coverage you might be facing. Check to see if there are towers in your area or check local coverage maps. You can ask friends or check local user reviews to hear from people in your area that actually use the service.

Today, there is more than just one type of coverage to choose from. There are 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE networks to consider and each one has a different web of national coverage. However, there are certain providers that have generally better coverage than others. Which one is right for you?

Verizon Wireless Coverage

Verizon has been the uncontested coverage king for a long time. They have the most wide-ranging coverage in the US in both 3G and 4G LTE.

Their 3G network reaches about 98% of all Americans, making it the most inclusive network that is available. Verizon's 4G network is completely LTE which is the fastest type of network. Plus, 4G LTE coverage is getting closer and closer to the same level of coverage as their 3G network, serving 95% of Americans.

According to the company's website, Verizon also covers "over 200 countries" in their Global Services plan. The covered countries may have access to 3G or 2G data or voice and messaging only.

AT&T Wireless Coverage

AT&T is right behind Verizon in several categories including coverage. Still, their 3G and 4G networks are wide-reaching. Of course, the further you get from populated cities, the greater the likelihood of spotty coverage.

AT&T's 3G network is wide reaching and most areas of the country will have access to some quality of their coverage, although rural areas will have poor coverage. The 4G coverage is also exceptional and their LTE coverage boasts fast download speeds and streaming capabilities. AT&T also offers plans that include international talk, text, and data.

T-Mobile Coverage

T-Mobile's performance has grown leaps and bounds in the past year. They have always had good plans and deals but now their speeds are making them even better. They spent 2013 rolling out their new 4G LTE network and their speeds are now incredibly fast. In fact, they now have the fastest download speeds in the industry. However, their nationwide coverage is still not as good as other services like AT&T and Verizon.

Sprint Coverage

Sprint sets itself apart from the crowd with its truly unlimited data plans. This means they would slow down your download speeds after a certain amount of data each month. This is a practice that many other companies with supposedly "unlimited data" employ in their plans. However, in terms of coverage and overall data speeds they are behind the rest. Their coverage is spotty even in some cities and they have slow 4G LTE speeds compared to the rest.

Before you sign up for a cell phone plan, consider other factors like pricing, plans, and available devices before making a final decision. Overall, Sprint has the best nationwide coverage but that doesn't mean they have the best coverage in your specific area. Check your local coverage before signing up.

Best Cell Phone Provider Recap

As you are looking at this list for a cell phone plan comparison, keep in mind that each individual cell phone provider on this list can be a great choice if you find a plan that works for you. Whatever service you choose, make sure it is the best cell phone provider for your area coverage-wise and investigate local options as well as the ones on this list.

Some providers allow you to bundle your cell phone service with other services like TV, and internet service. To learn about your options in these services, take a look at our reviews of the best TV providers and the best internet providers.

Best Cell Phone Provider FAQs

Which cell phone provider is fastest?

As a no-contract cell phone provider with a limited network, T-Mobile used to be in the middle of the pack when it came to the top mobile providers. However, after their new network recently rolled out their overall quality went through the roof. They had always offered good month to month plans but their network couldn't back it up.

Now they have the fastest data speeds in the market. If you are looking for a carrier that offers blazingly fast download and upload speeds then T-Mobile is number one. However, their coverage is still limited.

How can I deal with poor reception?

If you live in a rural area with weak cell reception there are several ways you can boost or cope with this issue. First, check your provider. If your poor reception is caused by your provider's weak coverage of the area, you may just have to switch to another carrier with better coverage. However, some areas of the country are difficult to reach for all companies so you'll have to try other tactics:

  • Keep your phone charged. Some phones tend to have better reception when they are running on adequate power. It takes plenty of power to connect a call; if your phone's battery is low it may have a harder time finding a signal.
  • Find your home's hot spots. There may be areas around your house that have stronger signals than others. Place your phone in these areas and use speaker-phone or a Bluetooth headset to communicate while your device remains stationary.
  • Step outside or near a window rather than making calls from the middle of buildings.
  • Use a cellular repeater. A repeater is a device that can boost a weak signal in a certain area. Install it outside that area, preferably somewhere that has at least two bars of signal and it should increase the signal around it.

How can I use my cell phone while abroad?

Using a cell phone while you are outside the country can be very expensive and reception largely depends on the carrier. Most people choose to use their cell phones only for emergencies while traveling abroad. To cut down on costs while keeping your phone one just in case you need it, turn off data and GPS.

Some providers have roaming plans, but these too can be pricey. However, some are better than others. As of last year, T-Mobile started including roaming data and texting in its popular "Simple Choice Plan." Not every country is covered in any of the top wireless companies' roaming plans. However, a list of the covered location should be provided by each carrier.

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I just started would Metro PCS and I'm having terrible problems with the network itself. From 3 PM to 8 PM I have no phone service or data service. I go to the store and they tell me my phone is fine in the data is fine. I'm being told that they could only unlock my phone after three months. This is so I cannot leave them and go anywhere else with better service.

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Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.