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Idaho Cellular Network Report
General Idaho Observations:
There are big differences between wireless service in rural and urban Idaho, but the edge is held by Verizon Wireless. They serve the largest amount of territory in the state. AT&T and T-Mobile are tied for second place in Idaho with good coverage in most populated areas. Sprint is a close third especially with good service around Boise but less in rural areas off the Interstate. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices 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 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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CTC Wireless is the cellular service provided by the Cambridge Telephone Company of Cambridge, Idaho. CTC offers their own wireless service in Cambridge and surrounding small towns, but in places like Boise, where they offer wireline service, they offer wireless only as a re-seller of Verizon Wireless. CTC offers a moderate selection of plans starting at $10. Most plans are overpriced although the Unlimited plans are reasonable. They offer a small selection of phones including a couple of Smart phones with inventory changing regularly. Customer service is very good and Lifeline plans are available. They claim 3G coverage in most areas of their own network. Bundles are available with their wireless service.
CUSTER TELEPHONE WIRELESS
Custer Wireless is the wireless network of the Custer Telephone Cooperative in central Idaho. Their CDMA network provides good coverage for the part of their wireline service area that is not covered by other carriers, mostly in the Salmon River valley. Most of their network has been upgraded to 4G. Plans are reasonably priced. Roaming is available on some of the other nearby area networks and Verizon Wireless. They have a moderate selection of phones including Smartphones. Customer service is very good. They offer other communications products but do not offer any bundle discounts with wireless.
FARMERS MUTUAL TELEPHONE COMPANY
FMTC has turned off their own cellular network on the Idaho/Oregon border centered around Fruitland, ID, and now along with their wireline and Internet services, offers cellular service as an agent of Verizon Wireless, and if you want, Sprint. Your combined bill comes from FMTC and there is a discount for "bundled" services.
Inland is a small company serving southeast Washington and north central Idaho. They have very good coverage and competitive plan prices. They have a modest selection of phones, most of which are Apple iPhones. Inland offers 3G coverage for their own network and all roaming partners. They have upgraded parts of their network to 4G-LTE and have made available 4G LTE roaming on the Sprint network. Their no-contract service, called "Fuel", has a wide variety of plan options. However, you are directed to a special Fuel web site that plays an annoying, continuous video that may take a while to download into your browser, only to find you need to scroll down below the video to get the information about their plans. we guess it's a "lifestyle" thing. They offer air cards and wireless home phone systems. Inland has local stores and good, local customer service which helps them maintain one of our top ratings...in spite of the video.
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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Serving Wyoming and adjacent areas of northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, Union has very good coverage in most areas, most of it is 3G with some areas being upgraded to 4G LTE. In some locations they are the only game in town including parts of Yellowstone National Park. They use GSM technology and also offer 'fixed' wireless service for home or business use, but that service is limited to Colorado areas for now. They offer reasonable plans and their Unlimited Talk/Text/Data plan is priced above average but allows Unlimited downloads in areas both within and to the west and south of their home area. They offer business enterprise plans that include multiple communications services. Union Wireless is part of the local telephone co-op so their customer service is better than average, however, there are no bundle discounts available with wireless. They have more roaming agreements covering a bigger US footprint than some larger wireless carriers, with international roaming and calling to many foreign countries. They offer a very large selection of phone models including Smart phones and the iPhone. They operate the local wireline network within parts of their wireless footprint and offer special low-cost home-based wireless plans within those areas.
Pros: Union is a small company with very good coverage and better than average customer service including several local stores, they are the only carrier available in some areas of Wyoming, they offer most digital features on a mostly 3G network.
Cons: While their western Wyoming and northwestern Colorado coverage is very good, coverage in the eastern half of Wyoming is not as robust. There is little 4G coverage.
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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