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California & Nevada Cellular Network Reports
General California Observations: It's too large and varied a state to declare a top cellular carrier but there are some indicators of what to expect. We believe T-Mobile has one of the best networks in the state, and with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, now offers excellent service in rural parts of the state as well. Verizon has maintained good coverage that rises above the others when traveling outside of urban areas. Sprint invested heavily to become the leader in coastal California and comes close to that goal. AT&T has been slow but more recently aggressive in adding coverage and features. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across most of the state.
General Nevada Observations: There is a big difference between urban and rural Nevada cellular service. Verizon Wireless now has the overall lead in the state for coverage. If you live in rural Nevada, you would do well with Choice Wireless in the western half of the state, and AT&T in the eastern half. AT&T also provides excellent urban coverage. Sprint is next in line for coverage across the state due to good in-town and highway coverage, and being able to roam in some rural areas. T-Mobile does well in Las Vegas and is usable along I-15 and I-80, but there is almost no other coverage in the state. TracFone and Straight Talk are available over most of the state.
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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Choice serves rural and small-town customers in 9 western US states. They offer mostly National "Unlimited" plans at a fixed price, starting at $20 a month, $30 with some data included. They use CDMA phones, they have excellent coverage, and their plans have a simplified structure that includes a certain amount of US roaming minutes. They have a moderate number of phone models including Smart phones and they allow you to bring your own phone from another CDMA carrier. All plans are prepaid so there are no contracts, and they offer monthly, pay-as-you-go and pay-per-day plans, and an Unlimited Data plan. Most areas support 3G broadband and 4G-LTE in the Navajo Nation. They offer wireless Internet devices which could give you the fastest broadband service available in a rural area. Choice supports Free or low-cost LifeLine service. There is no relationship between this Choice Wireless and the Choice Wireless in northern Texas.
Cleartalk is a small CDMA carrier that serves small communities in several states. If you live within their coverage, you'll be doing business with locals. Their plans offer different levels of "Unlimited" features and provide most of the features of an all-digital system. They have a variety of Unlimited plans starting as low as $35 with add-ons for Calling features, Long Distance, Mexico calling, and partial Nationwide coverage available. They provide regional and national coverage with most, or all, service outside of your small Home area provided on the Sprint network. Their phone selection is fairly small and not very advanced, but they can "flash" your current phone on to the Cleartalk network. Data coverage ranges from 2G to 4G-LTE.
As one of the Top 4 networks in the US, we know much about Sprint. In some areas Sprint has the best coverage, and in others they are non-existent. Sprint has a national, feature-rich digital network. Their coverage is a little "fragile" in some areas, but where it's good, it's very good. Sprint has a good selection of phones. Most of their plans limit you to their own network, especially for data. In addition to acquiring a few networks, they have expanded their coverage and Data capabilities by creating operating agreements with several, smaller, regional networks. They offer a large selection of wireless phones and devices and they rarely allow devices from other sources on their network. Sprint has added competitive International Value Roaming plans that provide up to 2G data speeds for free in parts of Asia, Europe and Latin America. Sprint also has a Wi-Fi Calling app that allows calling through a Wi-Fi connection from almost anywhere in the world and those calls can be completed in the US and US territories with no charge. Sprint offers prepaid under the Sprint Prepaid, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile brands. Sprint has added some micro-cells to their network to beef up their signal in already-served areas but have added very few cell sites to expand into more rural areas.
Pros: Sprint gives you good value for your money, but is not necessarily the cheapest. Sprint covers every urban area in the US including coverage in a good number of small communities. They have local stores, their digital and data features work very well, and they have a good selection of phones. We get the fewest complaints about data capacity issues on the Sprint network. "Unlimited" data usage is available. International Roaming capabilities have been improved. While most Sprint plans do not allow roaming off the Sprint network, most plans do include a few roaming minutes to keep from being totally out of touch.
Cons: You might find a weak area right where you want coverage, some of their plans are not very competitive, customer service is a notch below average, Unlimited plans do not include unlimited usage while roaming except for some specific plans. There are large rural areas, even entire states, with no Sprint coverage.
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US Cellular is the 5th largest wireless carrier in the US and operates their own CDMA network in 21 states, mostly in rural areas and smaller cities. They provide very good coverage, most of their network uses the superior 700 and 800 MHz frequency bands with 4G LTE available in 99% of their coverage areas including locations that have been ignored by larger carriers. They offer good plans with lots of features, and a large selection of CDMA phones including numerous Smart phones. They have very good domestic roaming capabilities but there is a limit of 400MB roaming Data off their network. Their plans are competitively priced and, while they still add taxes and fees, they don't add annoying surprise charges like activation or access fees. They offer numerous promotions both on phones and plans. Their prepaid plans have improved and now include Unlimited Calls, Text and Data, with Data limits outside their own coverage. Over the years they have been the most customer-friendly of the large carriers. Overall, they sit near the top of the Mountain Wireless Network Ratings. US Cellular has sold some of their spectrum and customers in the Midwest but has added more spectrum within and adjacent to their remaining operating areas. This has resulted in better service in US Cellular's own markets.
Pros: Their price plans are a good value, they have very good roaming capabilities, including Data roaming. US Cellular has upgraded to 4G LTE on most of their network, including areas ignored by other carriers. They have good customer service and resolve customer problems better than most. They maintain some 'customer-friendly' features. Their Data plans don't produce overages, they just drop to 2G speeds when you have exceeded your maximum.
Cons: While they still have a customer-friendly attitude they don't offer as many benefits as in previous years. Since US Cellular isn't national, much of their service is supplied by roaming partners, most of which have excellent coverage. There is a limit to how much roaming data is available. Roaming outside of the US is substantially limited and, where available, is relatively expensive.
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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