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Network Reviews in the Eastern US
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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This small CDMA system serves several cities across upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania. They offer a choice of Unlimited plans starting at only $18, each with several add-ons available including Data. All plans are prepaid. They offer a small number of low-end phones including a few smartphones. Coverage within their own service areas is acceptable, but driving between their separate, local service areas could incur roaming charges. Voice roaming is available nationwide but 4G - LTE Data roaming outside Blue's home area appears to be limited to the Sprint network. Customer Service and their Data capabilities are unknown as they have yet to answer when we call.
CAROLINA WEST WIRELESS
Carolina West has good Local coverage in their service area of western North Carolina. They offer a variety of plans that are priced about average. Data plans are reasonably priced. They have a good selection of CDMA phones including Smart phones, the iPhone and air cards. Carolina West is owned by a partnership of 3 local telephone cooperatives which means they should have better than average customer service, but there are no bundle discounts that include wireless. They have added 4G-LTE service to most of their coverage area but don't plan 4G-LTE roaming until sometime in 2017. They offer LifeLine wireless service but at an abnormally high price.
CLARO PUERTO RICO
Claro has very good coverage across most of the island. The network is owned by America Movil and is operated like other America Movil networks in Latin America and not like their prepaid-only services offered in mainland US. Their expanded GSM network operates mostly with 4G LTE coverage. They have a large selection of phones and also offer several other communications services. We have no reports customer service, but the owner is a large Latin America-based wireless company so they have a number of advantages over the others. Claro does not offer an English language web site.
Dish does not operate a wireless network but they possess one of the largest assignments of wireless spectrum. They have notified the FCC of plans that include the date of a required buildout and what type of network they will construct. Their notification indicates they will construct a nationwide network to serve the IoT (Internet of Things) market that they project will grow from 17 Billion devices currently to over 75 Billion devices within the next 8 years. This has the potential of being a network that most of us will use, but won't have the opportunity, or the need, to sign up for. We'll share updates as we find them at the Wireless Noise.
Serving 5 counties in northern Pennsylvania, Indigo has very reasonable plans that include most digital features and included long distance. They have several competitive price plans which can get pricey when you add Data. They offer very good GSM coverage and they have expanded the network to some unserved areas of rural New York. They have a small selection of GSM phones, some of which are expensive, They also offer an economical "Senior" plan that gets cheaper if you add a spouse. They offer a wireless home phone system which is more expensive than the larger carriers but may have the only wireless signal available. Their network appears to be all 3G, and they support 3G roaming across the country.
Limitless serves the center of Pennsylvania. Their parent company is a UK-based wireless support company that may be using their Pennsylvania network as a demonstration project...which may be a good thing. The company web site claims their small GSM network offers 3G/4G coverage, but their retail operations also tell us to expect Edge (2G) performance as well. They sell a small number of phones and have good plan prices, with an excellent introductory promotion. Their mobile phones can roam outside their home area. They offer Senior and Lifeline plans, They also offer wireless Home Internet access through the same network with a nice discount for home and mobile devices on the same account. We have received no reports about their coverage or customer service.
Open Mobile specializes in local Puerto Rico coverage with a good CDMA network. They offer phones priced with or without a contract with a modest number of Smart phone choices including the iPhone. They offer some 4G LTE coverage but we don't know how much. Plans are reasonably priced and their prepaid plans are very competitive. Open Mobile and Sprint have agreed to a joint operating agreement in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. This is not an acquisition and should ultimately utilize the best features of each company. For now, it looks like it will be an easy transition and should improve coverage, roaming abilities and phone selection for Open Mobile customers. Open Mobile does not offer an English language web site.
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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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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Viya is the new name for the combined networks of the former Choice Wireless and Innovative Mobile in the US Virgin Islands. An updated review is coming but the combination of the 2 networks now provides excellent coverage over the entire area. They have a large number of plans including Unlimited Data. Prices are above average and they have a large number of plan selections, including Text, which is extra, but plans can be tailored to just the type of usage you need. They offer a moderate number of phone models. Viya can bundle your wireless with their other communications services for additional savings.
VTel Wireless is operated by the Vermont Telephone Company. VTEL was created from funds provided by Sprint to help expand their broadband coverage into Vermont plus government funds to support broadband wireless service in small towns and rural areas of Vermont. As such, VTel's primary focus is on broadband in a fixed location, but service includes the ability to use your GSM Smart phone or tablet, including as a 'hot spot'. Coverage is very good and uses a mixture of frequency bands and the company intends to cover all inhabited areas of the state. VTel plans to offer voice services via VoLTE (Voice over LTE) as well as nationwide roaming sometime in the future. Since Sprint contributed to the construction of Vtel we will assume Sprint customers have access to broadband on the Vtel network.