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Cellular Network Report
General Kansas & Nebraska Observations: Verizon Wireless dominates the overall region with excellent 4G coverage. Viaero Wireless is the rural coverage leader in Nebraska and northwestern Kansas. For a large part of both states, US Cellular is a top choice with only the western edge of each state uncovered. AT&T has no service of their own in Nebraska other than around Omaha, but they offer good coverage in the urban areas of Kansas, and is tied with Verizon for coverage in the western half of Kansas. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, offers very good service across most of Kansas with the exception of some rural areas in the western part of the state with almost no service in Nebraska outside of Omaha. Sprint has some coverage in the eastern half of Kansas, otherwise they have no service, especially in Nebraska outside of Omaha. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across most of both states.
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.
AT&T Pros & Cons
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Nex-Tech claims to cover every western Kansas town "with more than 300 people." They are a partnership of several local telephone co-ops so we expect customer service to be above average. Coverage is surprisingly good for a PCS system. They have a wide range of plans that are priced about average with features that include Nationwide roaming. Their own network has been upgraded to 4G LTE and 4G roaming is available in most of Kansas but is limited to more populated areas in the rest of the US. They offer a large selection of CDMA phones including Smart phones and the iPhone, they have several retail locations, and offer numerous promotions. International calling and roaming are available. They offer wireless home phone service and Lifeline plans.
Pioneer has good CDMA coverage, especially in northwest Oklahoma, with some service across the border into southern Kansas, and they now offer 4G LTE coverage. They have a large selection of phones, including a good number of Smart phones. They have a large number of plans, maybe too large, and, while some of them are overpriced, they include a good amount of Data. They are part of the local communications cooperative, so we expect better than average customer service. Some basic features cost extra...we don't like being nickel and dimed and it adds significantly to your final cost. LifeLine plans are available. Roaming coverage favors the Sprint network.
Pioneer Wireless Coverage
As one of the Top 4 networks in the US, we know much about Sprint. They are generally considered tied for third place in the US in coverage and numbers of subscribers. In some areas Sprint has the best coverage, and in others they can be 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. In some markets they use a separate network for 4G coverage. Therefore, having good local Sprint Voice/Text or 3G data coverage is no guarantee of adequate 4G coverage. 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. However, there may be clouds on Sprint's horizon. They have started an "upgrade" of their network that is based on moving their cell sites from their current towers and site locations to "cheaper" government land. This may change coverage for a large number of users and we believe there is little hope for anything other than coverage degradation. We downgraded Sprint's "MW Rating" as they move into this unknown cost-saving program. They're also planning to move to a microwave backhaul instead of phone company fiber which is not unusual and may save them some money.
Sprint Pros & Cons
This CDMA carrier is the wireless part of the United Telephone Company in southwest Kansas. United offers a moderate number of phone models including smartphones, the iPhone and wireless Internet routers. Their plans are priced slightly less than average including plans with Data. Their Prepaid plans are also competitive. United coverage is very good and they offer mostly 4G - LTE broadband. They support Lifeline plans and wireless Internet for home access. While they offer nationwide roaming without extra charges, roaming outside of Kansas is mostly limited to major cities and highways, especially in states west of Kansas. As part of the local telephone co-op we expect customer service to be better than average.
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.
US Cellular Pros & Cons
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.
Verizon Wireless Pros & Cons
Viaero is a GSM carrier in rural Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and border areas of eastern Wyoming. Coverage in most areas is excellent with only a few holes in some very remote areas. Viaero covers many areas where other carriers serve only minimally. This company is run by people with a technical background so coverage and operations are top-notch, often better than the local land lines. They are rapidly widening their coverage footprint, sometimes into surprising locations like the San Luis Valley of Colorado and eastern Wyoming. If you live in their service area you can even request to have them build a cell site near you if you can come up with enough neighbors' signatures, but it shouldn't be necessary. They offer very reasonable on-network "Unlimited" plans, including several for fixed location (home or business) use for both voice and Internet access. They're a good substitute for a wireline in most areas. They have a large number of reasonable plans with National coverage. While their Data plans can be pricey, they are truly "Unlimited". They offer to pay the Early Termination Fee if you leave another carrier. Their phones will roam in Mexico and Canada and they offer discount International Long Distance add-ons. Viaero does not lock their GSM phones, making it possible to use your Viaero phone with a local SIM in foreign countries. They have discounts for people on various support programs. Viaero's network is almost all 4G with the goal of 100% as soon as technically possible.
Pros: They offer flexible, reasonably-priced plans with convenient price points, including Local, National and Unlimited plans. Very good to excellent coverage, good customer service, local stores, good nationwide roaming, good data service, 4G broadband available. They are an excellent substitute for wireline service. Theirs is the most responsive network in the country to network technical issues.
Cons: The network can be weak in extreme rural areas, but still beats the competition in most places, and you can ask them to add a tower! Most Unlimited and some promotional features are limited to their own network. Their customer service is usually good, when they're available, but there have been isolated problems especially with how products are marketed, but not with the performance of the network.