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A Comparison of the US Wireless Carriers

September 29, 2009 in Featured, Wireless Industry News

I have to admit, I liked the new table comparison that I did for the N900/N97/N97 Mini. So now I’m applying it to other data, like wireless carriers and plans in the USA, with mixed success. Inside, a version 1 comparison of the major US carriers.

I’d love to expand this table in the future, to make a kind of “Definitive Guide to the US Wireless Carriers”, so keep on the lookout. And apologies for the small text size.

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon
Network GSM (850/1900)
WCDMA (850)
Coverage Area
CDMA
Coverage Area
GSM (1900)
WCDMA (1700)
Coverage Area
CDMA
Coverage Area
Individual Plan (overage fee) $39.99, 450 min
$59.99, 900 min
$79.99, 1350 min
$99.99, Unlimited
$39.99, 450 min
$59.99, 900 min
$69.99, 450 min + unlimited data/sms
$99.99, Unlimited
$29.99, 300 min
$39.99, 600 min
$49.99, 1000 min
$59.99, 1500 min
$99.99, Unlimited
$39.99, 450 min
$59.99, 900 min
$79.99, 1350 min
$99.99, Unlimited
Messaging $4.99, 200 msg
$0.20 / text
$0.30 / pic/vid msg
$5, 300 msg
$10, 1000 msg
$20, unlimited
$0.20 / msg
$4.99, 300 msg
$0.20 / text
$5, 250 msg
$10, 500 msg
$0.20 / text
$0.25 / pic/vid msg
Data $30, unlimited message/data, iPhone/smartphone data plan
$15, non-smartphone unlimited data
$15, unlimited data
$0.03 per kb
$9.99, unlimited web for non-smartphones
$24.99, unlimited web for smartphones
$15, unlimited data
$1.99 / MB, non-smartphone
$15.36 / MB (0.015 / KB), select smartphones
$30, 5GB data
$49.99 per month for unlimited data
Activation $36 $36 (currently $0 promo) None that I could find $35
ETF (Early Termination Fee) $175, prorated $200, prorated $200, prorated $175, prorated
Special Rollover (unused minutes carry over) Nights & Weekends unlimited calling starts at 7pm myFaves, $10: unlimited calls to 5 numbers Ringbacks, Friends & Family for 900 min plan or greater
Discounts AT&T Premier discount program Sprint Wireless Discount Request
Employee Referral Program (SERO)
T-Mobile Premier
T-Mobile Business Direct: 1-866-464-8662
Employee/Student discount program
The Good - GSM
- Only carrier with the iPhone
- Rollover minutes
- Only provider that has the Palm Pre
- SERO plans are extremely cheap
- Only 4G network
- Nokia N900 can take advantage of T-mobile 3G
- Most reasonably priced
- Only carrier with Android
- Probably largest coverage in the USA
The Bad - 3G speeds in metro areas - History of lousy customer service - Worst 3G coverage of the group - Limited cell phone selection
- A tendency to lock out certain phone features
- Little international phone support
Reseller Rating 1.14 out of 10 0.00 out of 10
Great reviews!
3.75 out of 10 2.28 out of 10

AT&T

Formerly the largest wireless provider in the USA. The only carrier with the iPhone, but that benefit (potentially) has a negative effect in metropolitan areas thanks to the sheer amount of data usage. Basically your go-to carrier if you want standard nationwide coverage (and 3/3.5G) with a GSM phone. One nice side benefit of having a non-AT&T smartphone is the ability to add the cheap $15 unlimited internet feature to your plan vs. the heftier $30 plan.

Sprint

Probably the most hated of the wireless carriers. This is mostly due to a long history of crappy customer service (see reseller ratings link above). They’re the only carrier to sell the Palm Pre, the closest thing to an iPhone killer. If you can get an employee email address and last 3-digits of their ID, you can sign up for the SERO (employee plans) which are very, very, impressively priced.

T-Mobile

The budget wireless carrier of the group. Plans are cheaper than the rest, but smartphone selection is extremely limited. They do sell two Android-powered phones: the G1 and myTouch 3G. T-Mobile’s use of the 1700 mhz band for 3G means that you won’t too many phones that support this. On the plus side, Nokia N900 DOES support it. Lucky guys.

Verizon

The largest of the wireless carriers, and maybe a bit better than AT&T in reliability and coverage in the USA. More subscribers means more people that you can call and make use of Verizon’s free in-network calling. However, keep in mind that Verizon tightly limits what devices are allowed on its network, so there aren’t many choices for cell phones, and you can’t just start using any random CDMA phone. Verizon also has a penchant for locking down phone features, most notably Bluetooth file transfer.

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Steve
10/14/2009
1:29 pm

The n900 cant work on at&t 3g. Will using an at&t sim card affect any other features on the phone? Thank You

ang
10/15/2009
12:47 am

Not that I’m aware of. Everything minus 3G should be functional.

Jonathan
9/29/2009
2:39 am

You might want to add all of the working frequencies for each carrier if you want to expand on this in the future. AT&T operates their 3G on both WCDMA 850 and 1900, T Mobile uses both GSM 850 and 1900, and they also use WCDMA 2100 as the overlay for their 3G network (different than how WCDMA 2100 is used in Euro markets). ↲↲It might also interest others to know that you can take advantage of unlimited data on AT&T for only $10 per month instead of $15 if you are on a family plan with the $30 unlimited messaging. AT&T is definitely the devil, but they’re still the only real game in town for using unlocked smartphones in the US with HSDPA, unfortunately. Hopefully the N900 will change things up a bit.

ang
9/29/2009
1:28 pm

Thanks for the suggestions Jonathan!

Reply to Jonathan


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