Don’t make the mistake of choosing a cellular provider without first educating yourself on what their coverage is like in your area. In this article, we discuss different aspects of carrier coverage, including how to find out the information you need to know before choosing or switching providers.
Are you thinking about changing providers? Is your current provider’s competition offering attractive deals to customers who sign up? Before you jump ship for a deal that gets you the new iPhone for free, there are things you need to consider first. One of those things is carrier coverage.
Just because your friend loves T-Mobile doesn’t guarantee you will. Even though Verizon ranks #1 in U.S. coverage area, that doesn’t guarantee it’s the clearest, most reliable choice where you live. It might be. But you need to check first. You’d be pretty frustrated with yourself if you switched providers because it was a better deal, only to discover that your reception is now worse than it was before.
Let’s talk about carrier coverage for 4 major networks – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile/Sprint, and US Cellular. Then we’ll answer a few questions and lay out some advice about switching carriers.
Carrier Coverage: Verizon Wireless
Verizon’s 4G service covers almost 3 million square miles; an area with more than 300 million people. Their website says their coverage area accounts for 99% of the U.S. population. If you’re comparing the monthly rates of various providers, you’ll see that Verizon prices their plans in accordance with their exceptional coverage. They’re the most expensive of all providers available to the regular consumer.
For the 1% of rural Americans who happen to live outside Verizon’s reach, a cell phone signal booster has a very good chance of making Verizon attainable. Or, if you live in an area where, because of geography or other surroundings, Verizon is weak for some reason, a signal booster should do the trick.
When talking about 3G, Verizon’s coverage is much more varied, but that is the case with every provider when it comes to 3G in 2022. When Verizon 4G service becomes unavailable for whatever reason, the user’s phone will automatically switch to 3G. This is what will happen no matter what carrier you use.
If you’re interested in what Verizon offers in the 5G realm, their website will have all the most up-to-date information. 5G coverage for every provider is evolving all the time.
Carrier Coverage: AT&T
Though Verizon is still the most widely available network, AT&T isn’t far behind. And according to a number of sources, AT&T actually has the fastest overall wireless speeds of any U.S. provider.
AT&T plans to move on from their 3G network permanently this year. They haven’t announced a precise date; only that it will happen in 2022. 70% of the U.S. is covered with their 3G network while 68% is covered by their 4G network. AT&T’s 5G coverage is still making headway. Their site says currently their 5G service is available in just over 14,000 cities. And a service they call 5G+ is available in parts of 38 cities.
Carrier Coverage: T-Mobile/Sprint
The T-Mobile/Sprint merger was officially complete on April 1, 2020. As a result, the new combined entity is the 2nd largest carrier behind Verizon and ranks 3rd in coverage behind Verizon and AT&T.
Their website boasts the “largest and most reliable 5G network”. That statement is a bold claim to make, but it appears that with the merger, they truly are the largest 5G network. It covers over 9,000 cities with a presence in all 50 states.
In recent announcements, T-Mobile says that by 2025 they will bring 14x more network capacity than they currently have. They also claim that in that time, they’ll improve their 5G speeds by 15x and increase their 5G reach to 99% of America. They’ve also said they won’t raise any of their prices until 2023.
Carrier Coverage: US Cellular
With the Big Three taking up most of the conversation, sometimes US Cellular gets overlooked. But this option is definitely worth taking a look at no matter what part of the country you live in. Their coverage area includes the majority of the United States, offering 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G. Their prices are much lower than T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon with some plans as low as $30 per month.
What If You Have Poor Signal When The Map Says It Should Be Great?
If after looking at coverage maps that verify you’re well within your provider’s coverage area and you still have poor signal, you’re in an unusual circumstance. Is this the fault of your carrier somehow?
We wish it was only that simply. Truthfully, when it comes to cellular reception, so many factors are at play, most of which are out of your carrier’s control. Here are just a few:
Cell Tower Location
If everyone could somehow be equidistant to a cell tower, everyone would have the same quality cell signal. But that’s obviously not the case. Some are farther away from the nearest cell tower than others. And the further away you are, the poorer your signal is. Like a song blasting from a car stereo as it drives away, the signal fades away with distance. Put some large buildings and landscapes in the way and it degrades even more.
When you’re looking at coverage maps, they don’t account for every building or hill that might lie between you and your nearest tower. It would be impossible for them to know.
Building materials like concrete, radiant barriers, tinted glass, metal, and even brick can cause trouble for cell signal if it has to pass through it before it reaches you. Natural obstructions like thick foliage, valleys, hills, and mountains do a number on signal, as well.
Most of us have our phone’s Wi-Fi setting set to “On”. It’s out of mind for most people. But when it’s set to “On” all the time, this means that your phone is searching for a Wi-Fi network first and a cellular network second. This often causes phones to experience a latency increase (aka lag time).
Phone Antenna Blockage
In the early days of cell phones, the antennas were big, long, and external. Today, these antennae are internal. Some types of thick phone cases can block your phone’s antenna. Your hand placement can also block it. Most smartphone users don’t know where exactly the antenna for their particular model sits inside their device. The local sales reps aren’t in the habit of pointing that out to customers. But it’s easy to find out online by looking at the specs of the phone you use.
Your Phone’s Age
The newer the phone, the better the reception. Why? Because cellular technology is constantly improving and evolving. New phones are compatible with the newest software updates, which result in the best reception possible for your device.
What If Switching Carriers Still Seems Like The Best Solution?
If, after trying and considering all of this, your signal is still poor and you feel that changing providers will fix it, here’s what you need to know first:
Fees Associated With Switching Providers
When starting a new plan with a new carrier, there are often fees. Not always, but usually there are some. Common fees charged when switching can include down payments associated with the new phone you get, possible increase in plan cost, and activation fees. Sometimes they prorate them or add them to a future bill so you don’t pay them right away. It’s always a good idea to carefully read your new contract before signing so you know what they’re charging you.
If you’re on a payment plan with your current device, your current carrier will require you to pay off the remaining balance before allowing you to switch providers. The marketing efforts of major carriers to get customers to upgrade their lines are extremely effective. Most customers upgrade their device the moment their provider tells them they’re eligible. This almost always comes with a finance plan for the new device. Make sure you know where you’re at with your financed device before switching. We’ve heard of customers being quite surprised when they learn how much they still owe on their device.
Early Termination Fees
If you want to switch providers while you’re still under contact with your current one, you’ll have to pay a fee. Some carriers have a set cancellation amount (usually around $350 give-or-take from what we’ve seen) no matter how many months you have left on your agreement. We’ve also heard of carriers charging per month that you have remaining, so the more months you have left, the bigger your termination fee. Some carriers are willing to pay your early termination fees up to a certain amount. Make sure you know all of this before going through with a switch.
All this being said, switching providers can be very lucrative and beneficial. Millions of cell phone users do it every year. Often, the deal really is as good as it sounds and the coverage quality is negligible between the two carriers. If you find this to be the case in your circumstance, then by all means, go for it!
Carrier Coverage: Which Network Has The Best Service In My Area? – Conclusion
So which network should you go with? Well, Verizon has the widest overall coverage area of any US provider. But AT&T and T-Mobile are getting more and more comparable all the time. And the prices aren’t exactly the same across every provider. All of these things are worth considering when choosing a carrier.
Each carrier has pros and cons. That’s why educating yourself with coverage maps and conversations with other people is important to make sure you make the best choice for you. If you’re moving to a new area, for instance, talk to people in that neighborhood about which carrier they use and how their experience has been. Also, remember that with a cell phone signal booster, any of the providers mentioned will probably be sufficient in most cases.