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General Alaska Observations: What information we have is more from visitors than locals. GCI Wireless provides coverage in the largest number of Alaska communities and with a recent expansion provides the greatest amount of the best cell phone coverage in Alaska, including data. AT&T serves many areas of the state with their own network, offering good broadband service as well as a large phone selection. Verizon Wireless has entered the state with a new 4G LTE network that depends on some roaming partners for greater coverage around the state, however, non-4G phones cannot access the Verizon network, so mainland visitors may end up roaming on a different network. Sprint and T-Mobile have no networks of their own in Alaska. TracFone and Straight Talk are also good choices in most areas of the state. Some towns have only one wireless carrier, many where wireless is the only phone service available.
ARCTIC SLOPE TELEPHONE ASSOCIATION COOPERATIVE
ASTAC provides good GSM service across the northern tip of Alaska. Plans are reasonable and are available with Unlimited use based on Statewide or National coverage. They offer 4G coverage in all areas and 2G phones won't work there. Plan prices start at $15 and their Lifeline program is Free. They have a very large number of Data plans to tailor your cost to your usage. As part of the local telephone cooperative, customer service is better than average and locals are very loyal to this hometown wireless supplier, bundle discounts are available. They have a surprisingly large selection of phones including smartphones and the Apple iPhone. AT&T has invested in the ASTAC network to provide better broadband coverage to their own customers who are roaming in northern Alaska yielding benefits for local users as well.
As one of the Top 4 networks in the US, most of us know much about AT&T. They are generally considered second nationally in coverage and numbers of subscribers. In some areas AT&T has the best coverage, and in others they can be in third place. With GSM technology, AT&T roams more readily internationally, but there are areas in the US with no GSM coverage. AT&T's takeover of other cellular networks has improved their service in some areas already, including Alaska. AT&T offers a large selection of GSM phones. AT&T gets credit for competing with products and price. Most network improvements are being made in their new markets and are increasing data capacity instead of adding cell sites in older areas. They have added 4G and LTE coverage in almost all markets. AT&T in some markets is among those with the top data download speeds, but not all. AT&T has acquired wireless networks in Mexico and offer seamless, nationwide wireless service on both sides of the US/Mexico border with big benefits for traveling AT&T customers and users with family in both countries. AT&T offers Prepaid and also operates Cricket Wireless.
Pros: AT&T has a large network and covers much of the nation, usage is transparent whether on- or off-network, good digital and data services, good national plans, and they have a very good selection of phones. Improvements in coverage have been substantial in some areas, lacking in others. Excellent international roaming capabilities. Additions of multiple network purchases give AT&T substantial rural coverage improvements. AT&T now offers bundles with several different entertainment services.
Cons: AT&T has whittled down many of their downsides including improving Data capacities. What few Con's they have remaining are somewhat minor. They include most AT&T plans aren't as generous as some, customers can only access GSM networks which are not as universally available in the US as CDMA, customer service varies from above to below average, some markets have a large number of dropped calls caused by large data users or poor coverage design. Some customers who have been transferred from other networks have noticed substantial changes in coverage, mostly while roaming. There are few rural areas where AT&T still needs to upgrade their legacy cell sites which can get congested.
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BRISTOL BAY CELLULAR
Bristol Bay covers the upper Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Plans offer Unlimited minutes but are pricey for just local coverage. They have a small selection of CDMA phones which are unlocked. While Bristol Bay sells some smartphones we do not know what broadband capabilities are available, if any. Bristol Bay customers are able to roam in Anchorage and the mainland US. You need to submit an application for service and a contract is required. We don't know if they allow roaming by other wireless customers. Lifeline plans are available. In some areas they provide the only telephone service. Bristol Bay is operated by the local telephone cooperative so they should be a bit easier to deal with, but they have shared few details with us outsiders.
COPPER VALLEY WIRELESS
Good local coverage serving Valdez, Alaska, eastward and northward. They have reasonable price plans with statewide and mainland US roaming included but they get real expensive when Data is added. They have a very small selection of CDMA phones and they offer fixed wireless service and broadband coverage. As part of the local telecommunications co-op, service is above average and bundle discounts are available. Copper Valley, in cooperation with Verizon Wireless, has upgraded most of its network to 4G LTE.
Cordova is part of the Cordova Telephone Cooperative along the coast of Alaska, south of Valdez. They have a good selection of GSM phones including Smart phones and the Apple iPhone. They have a number of reasonably-priced plans including Local, Statewide and National plans. Their Unlimited plan is overpriced. They serve some areas where there may not be any other telephone service available. They offer discount bundles with their other communications services including free cell phone service when tied to your home land line. They are upgrading their network to 4G LTE coverage which will be available for both mobile and fixed wireless services. LifeLine accounts are available for $1 per month with an activation fee of $35.
GCI offers wireless service in the largest number of Alaska communities. Their GSM network is being upgraded to 4G LTE coverage with about half of the outlying network at 3G. After their recent acquisition of the Alaska Communications cellular network, they provide Talk, Text and Data capabilities over most of the inhabited areas of the state. GCI plans are more generous than average, especially for Data, and start at a lower price point, however, it's hard to determine what is included in each plan from their web site. They have a large selection of phones including smartphones and the iPhone, and support a convenient wireless home phone service. GCI has a large number of other telecommunications services that can benefit users with more complicated needs and can be bundled for significant discounts with wireless. GCI has competitive Prepaid plans and supports Lifeline service at $1 per month.
This is the cellular division of the OTZ Telephone Cooperative in Kotzebue in northwest Alaska. They have several plans and they include Local Unlimited minutes with various levels of Roaming. Rates are reasonable and include Unlimited roaming in coastal towns across the northern part of the state and Anaktuvuk Pass, but not areas to the south. They have a moderate choice of phones and some features, like Caller ID, are charged extra. OTZ does not offer any kind of Data service on their cellular network but they do offer some Smart phones which can be used in wi-fi hot spots, some of which are provided by OTZ. This means OTZ is using older "2G" technology which has severely restricted the roaming capabilities of these phones now that OTZ's major roaming partner, AT&T, has discontinued 2G coverage. This may be solved by switching to one of the newer OTZ data-capable phones. OTZ does not require service contracts and offers bundles with their other communication services.
TelAlaska serves several small Alaska communities with wireless and other communications products, with locations spread widely across the state from Nome, Fort Yukon and Seward, to the Aleutian Islands. Their GSM wireless network serves those communities with plans that are very affordable and include Local, Nationwide, Prepaid, Student and LifeLine plans. They have a small selection of GSM phones including some very basic Smart phones. They offer Data plans be we don't know the quality of broadband technology offered. TelAlaska is the only wireless provider in many of their communities.
As one of the Top 4 US carriers, Verizon has the largest wireless network, geographically, in the US. They are dominant in rural America. Their claim to fame is superior coverage on their CDMA network, especially in the west, and with excellent broadband capacity in the largest cities. In the few places where they don't have their own coverage, they have roaming agreements with carriers that have superior coverage. Therefore, their included coverage is about as close to "coast-to-coast" as you can get. Verizon's data costs are quite high but provide a very good online experience with extensive 4G LTE coverage in most areas. They have tried to simplify plans which are still overpriced compared to other options, and they are slow to match offers from the competition. Customer service is excellent but does not offer much flexibility in rates. Their phone selection is huge including Smart phones, wireless devices and wireless home phones. Verizon offers bundled discounts with other communications operators including their own wireline & video divisions as well as various local telephone companies. They offer their own Prepaid plans.
Pros: Verizon has superior coverage especially in very rural and very urban areas, excellent customer service and some 'customer-friendly' policies. With such a large coverage area of their own, little roaming is necessary, and their roaming partners normally have superior coverage. They offer a large variety of phones and devices. They have excellent data service including the largest coverage of faster high-speed connections.
Cons: Some Verizon plans are a more expensive, with odd combinations of charges for data-capable phones. Some of their data services are not available while roaming. CDMA phones roam in a limited number of foreign countries but Verizon now has phones that will roam in foreign countries. Verizon has been slow to match the competition.
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