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Montana 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.

AT&T Review

AT&T
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 WIRELESS
Choice serves rural and small-town customers in 9 western US states.  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 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. 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".

NEMONT WIRELESS
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 COMMUNICATIONS
SRT Wireless in Minot, ND and north central Montana has decided to discontinue cellular service as of July 15, 2017. They offer discounts to switch your phone to Verizon Wireless.
Straight Talk

STRAIGHT TALK
Straight Talk is reviewed at Prepaid Reviews
.

T-MOBILE
T-Mobile is one of the Top 4 carriers in the US and is considered tied for the number 3 position in coverage and subscribers. Where they have coverage, T-Mobile works very well, especially in their new "Extended" coverage areas. While they have a slight disadvantage with their higher PCS-only frequency, they make up for it with strategically-located sites. T-Mobile doesn't serve many deep rural areas, but provides coverage along most major highways. They do offer coverage from roaming partners in rural areas, and the network is still growing. T-Mobile has been very competitive by offering sector-leading plans and features.  They offer a number of Family plans that better than most and were pioneers at allowing you to choose between subsidized handsets and non-contract pricing. Their plans include generous amounts of Voice, Text messaging and Data. T-Mobile charges extraordinarily low roaming rates outside of the US including Data.  they have FREE Calling, Text and Data both TO & FROM Mexico and Canada, and they offer a Wi-Fi Calling app that enables you to make Voice calls through wi-fi in any country at the same rate as local calls in the US. While T-Mobile's "4G" network does not universally operate at LTE speeds, it is still very fast and is available in a large number of cities. T-Mobile has a growing number of corporate-owned retail stores, which is a good thing, but the plans offered at retail stores and those offered online can be quite different. Review your options online before going to a T-Mobile store. T-Mobile offers Prepaid under the T-Mobile Prepaid, MetroPCS and GoSmart brands.

Pros: Generous plans, good urban coverage, good roaming capabilities including internationally. They offer 4G coverage and competitive data pricing.  Their new "Extended" coverage has very robuts coverage. They have good customer service and a very good selection of phones. You can Bring Your Own Device and you can replace your phone as much as 3 times a year. Roaming in Mexico and Canada is available for the same rates as at home for Voice, Text & Data.  They have an excellent Prepaid plan. They have expanded their spectrum allowing greater download capacity, especially in major markets.

Cons: Some weak coverage, some of which is extensive, higher speed services sometimes require the use of higher frequencies in some areas which may restrict coverage, but they are expanding data service across more of their spectrum allocations. Some new coverage areas require a 4G LTE compatible phone. T-Mobile plans that are offered at stores can be different than those offered online. There many rural areas, and even entire states, with no T-Mobile coverage.
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TracFone

TRACFONE
TracFone is reviewed at Prepaid Reviews.

TRIANGLE MOBILE
Triangle serves the northeast quarter of Montana.  They have very good coverage and a good selection of phones.  Their CDMA network is reported to be all 4G-LTE and they offer a good selection of phones including  smartphones.  Triangle is a telephone co-op which usually yields better than average customer service.  While they offer bundle discounts with their various communications services, they may not offer a bundle discount with wireless.

VERIZON WIRELESS
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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