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Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan & Ohio
Cellular Network Reviews
General Great Lakes Network Observations: Verizon Wireless has several coverage and frequency advantages including the northern reaches of Wisconsin and the U.P. About half of the region is covered by US Cellular and if they're in your neighborhood, we prefer them over almost all others. AT&T is the leader in a few areas including certain rural locations, but they suffer in several urban areas including Cleveland. Sprint performs slightly better than AT&T in many cities, including Chicago, but they suffer in rural areas. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, offers excellent service across most of the Great Lakes region with the exception of rural Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across the whole region.
As one of the Top 4 networks in the US, most of us know much about AT&T. They are generally considered second overall 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 most urban markets and will upgrade most of the network in the near future. AT&T in some markets is among those with the top data download speeds, but not all. AT&T now offers plans that gives customers a better value when you bring your own wireless device and no-contract pricing. AT&T has acquired wireless networks in Mexico and will soon be able to 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 under the GoPhone and Cricket Wireless brands.
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. No-contract plans gives you a better value over the long term.
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.
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Cellcom provides excellent coverage in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We thought they couldn't make their plans more complicated than before, but they have. There is no hint of an individual plan on their price list although you certainly can get one of their "shared" plans and share it with yourself! Fortunately, they offer a long list of sophisticated CDMA phones including Smart phones, the iPhone and home phone devices. They have upgraded most, if not all, of their network to 4G. They also offer a good selection of their phones for Prepaid accounts. Their prepaid charges are fairly high but include Nationwide unlimited calls and reasonable Data add-ons. They have a "security" plan for $100 a year. Their Lifeline Plan is priced above average and their Tribal Lifeline Plan includes many more minutes and features at a slightly lower price.
ILLINOIS VALLEY CELLULAR
Illinois Valley serves a small rural area south and west of Chicago with very good coverage. Their plans range from reasonable to overpriced, including Unlimited and National plans, but charge extra for Voice Mail and Text on their cheaper plans. They have different levels of Unlimited service. They have a moderate selection of CDMA phones including Smart phones, the iPhone and wireless Internet for the home. Prepaid plans charge a flat .20/minute and include all features, coverage is limited to their 8-county area, and refills are only good for 60 days. Illinois Valley reports they are upgrading to 4G LTE but with no timetable for completion.
Mosaic Mobile, part of Mosaic Telecom, a communications provider in rural northwest Wisconsin, has decided to discontinue cellular service and has turned off their wireless network.
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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Thumb has very good coverage in the "thumb" area of eastern Michigan with plans that range from reasonable to overpriced. They offer mostly Unlimited Voice, Text and Data plans with fairly reasonable limitations on usage. There are few opportunities to get a really low-priced plan, even with prepaid. 4G LTE broadband is available. They have a small selection of CDMA Smart phones, most of which are iPhones. They also operate thier own local stores.
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 is available in most 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. While their plans aren't overpriced, they aren't terribly generous with Data. They offer promotions both on phones and plans. Their prepaid plans aren't competitive with alternative carriers. 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 other markets.
Pros: Their price plans are a good value, they have very good roaming, 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.
Cons: Plans aren't cheap but you may be able to configure your plan to economize based on your usage. While they still have a customer-friendly attitude they don't offer as many benefits as in previous years. While they have had notable problems with their new billing system, they have been willing to work with any customer adjustments needed. Roaming outside of the US is substantially limited and, where available, is relatively expensive. Their Prepaid plans aren't very generous.
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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