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Cellular Network Report
General Montana Observations: Verizon Wireless dominates the state with good coverage and plans. AT&T through acquisitions now provides good coverage across most of the state. T-Mobile offers service in western Montana and recently acquired spectrum that will allow them to eventually provide coverage to the entire state. Triangle Mobile provides very good coverage across the northeast quarter of Montana. Sprint is not available in Montana.. TracFone and Straight Talk are also available in most areas of the state. There are places in the state that are served by just one carrier, so check locally for coverage in rural areas.
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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BIG SKY MOBILE
This GSM carrier provides cellular service in Butte, Bozeman and Livingston, Montana. They offer Unlimited plans with Local, Statewide or National coverage at somewhat high prices for the coverage offered, but no contracts are required. They offer a small number of dated phone models with no Smart phones. Along with most digital features, their 'enhanced' voice mail is included with your plan. Their Local coverage is quite limited. Their customer service has been difficult to evaluate as we have never been able to find anyone to answer our questions. There appears to be no broadband features available.
Choice serves rural and small-town customers in 9 western US states and the entire US Virgin Islands. 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, 4G in USVI, 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. Choice has acquired Innovative Mobile in The US Virgin Islands which should dramatically improve coverage and technical support in the islands. There is no relationship between this Choice Wireless and the Choice Wireless in northern Texas.
MID RIVERS WIRELESS
Mid Rivers Wireless covers the east central part of Montana and has extended coverage into the northwest corner of North Dakota. They now provide 4G LTE coverage in most areas and 4G roaming. They offer a few CDMA phones including some 4G Smart phones, most of which are a little pricey. They offer Regional and National plans, all Home area calls are Unlimited, and Regional plans include the Nemont Wireless territory as your Home calling area. Their calling plans are a little overpriced, Data charges are expensive but there are several price levels. They are part of the local telephone co-op, Mid Rivers Communications, so they are pretty friendly and easy to deal with, and they offer bundle discounts for various services including wireless, landline, Internet and cable TV. They offer Lifeline plans and a $20 "Value Plan".
The Nemont Telephone Cooperative provides CDMA wireless service in northeast Montana and northwest North Dakota surrounding Minot. They have good coverage across their area. They offer reasonably-priced National plans including reasonable data charges. They have very inexpensive Local plans limited to their own coverage area and they offer subsidized Lifeline plans. As part of the local telephone cooperative you can expect better than average customer service and bundles are available. They have a small selection of phones including some Smart phones and the iPhone.
SRT Wireless is part of the local phone co-op, SRT Communications, formerly the Souris River Telephone Mutual Aid Corporation. SRT operates a CDMA network at PCS frequencies throughout their wireline service area in Minot, ND and across north central Montana. They offer Regional, National and Unlimited plans which are overpriced, but they do offer a basic, Regional plan at $25. Their "Regional" plans include their own network and extended coverage onto the Nemont Wireless network west into Williston and northeast Montana. They charge extra for some of their wireless features such as 3-way Calling, Call Waiting Caller ID and Call Forwarding. As part of the local telephone cooperative, customer service is better than average. They offer a good number of Smart phones and the iPhone and bundle discounts with their other communications services.
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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