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Washington Cellular Network Report
General Pacific Northwest Observations:
Seattle is the former home of AT&T Wireless and that may have contributed to their superior coverage in Washington and, to a lesser extent, Oregon. Verizon has expanded to a strong second choice in both states, especially in rural areas. T-Mobile was also based in the area (as Voicestream) and covers the cities and major highways well, but has little rural service. Sprint offers acceptable coverage in the populated parts of the state but has poor coverage along some highways and little in rural areas. US Cellular does a great job in rural areas and, if they're available near you, are a preferred choice. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices over the entire region.
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
Get AT&T Phones @ Less Than Retail!
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.
SNAKE RIVER PCS
Snake River PCS is part of the Eagle Telephone Company of Richland, OR. Their own wireless network extends into nearby towns and along surrounding highways. Other areas are served by roaming partners which are available with "Travel Minutes". They have a small selection of phones and also offer some Smart phones. Their plans are priced the same as their wireline services and start with an economical "mini-plan" with a number of a la carte add-ons including additional National Travel Minutes. All plans include basic digital features. Eagle Telephone is small enough to have live people answer the phone and are quite helpful. The old web site for Snake River PCS is still active but is not related.
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
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