US Cell Providers – The good, the bad and the… well… bad.

In the US, there are 4 major players in the cell industry. Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Each company seeming to have very different business models and methods of attracting users. Each company has their “Fanboys” and their critics. I have been a customer of all 4 of these carriers at one point in my history of owning a cellphone and have my opinions of each. Now you get to read them.

Verizon Wireless: In my mind, VZW is the clear leader in the industry if you are looking for solid coverage and options on your choice of cell platform (“Dumb” phone, Android, iPhone and WinMo). It will be rare that you don’t have the ability to make a phone call, barring being in a building that’s playing hell with their signal. The downside? VZW is not very innovative and there’s a serious lag between the time that a manufacturer releases a phone to the market and Verizon will launch it. Of course, there’s two sides to that coin. It take them forever to launch a phone, but that’s because they put it through rigorous before they will allow it on their network. They work very hard to ensure it will perform well and that their customers will not suffer. Now that they have finally launched the iPhone, I believe it’s only a matter of time before they crush the competition. The other downside to Verizon is that they use CDMA technology, which is not globally compatible and has fallbacks like the inability to support simultaneous voice and data usage.

Sprint: Sprint is a company focused on the “all you can eat” style plan. They hedge their bets on users that need a lot of usage capabilities (or *think* they need unlimited usage. They offer a very affordable “unlimited everything” plan. What’s the downside? Their coverage is fairly poor. Granted, it got better when Spring purchased Alltel/Nextel back in 2004, but they are still behind the game. Personally, I would suggest that their users look at their actual minute and data consumption. Do you really need unlimited or would you be better off with a more solid carrier with a “limited” plan that still offers all you need? Sprint uses the same CDMA technology as Verizon, so again, you’re limited to US coverage.

T-Mobile: With T-Mobile, you get a few awesome benefits. Their customer service is one of the best around. Also, this company really pushed innovation. They were the first to launch Android and look at how the platform has grown. They are consistently launching the latest and greatest devices. The downside with T-Mobile is again, coverage. T-Mobile does use GSM technology, so simultaneous voice and data do work. In addition, their phones can be used globally.

AT&T: I left these guys for last because it’s hard for me to be objective when discussing them. I have a problem with AT&T as a whole company. At one point, I would have said the primary benefit to them was the iPhone, however that’s no longer the case with VZW getting it on their network. They do use GSM, which is a good thing. Their coverage map is not as large as Verizon, but they are very clearly the number 2 in the country in terms of technical coverage. The problem is their network is so antiquated and overloaded with users and usage that it has become a huge liability. Dropping calls is not uncommon at all. Poor signal, you’re lucky to be a customer of theirs and not run into times when you can’t get signal. Overall, they are just very poor. I am convinced that had it not been for their long time exclusivity with the iPhone, they would have gone out of business ages ago.


So, what sparked this post? Well, in recent news, it’s become known that AT&T is attempting to purchase T-Mobile for $39 billion. A clear statement by AT&T that they recognize that their network is a sore spot and that in order to stay afloat, they need to take drastic actions soon. Well, I have a big problem with the purchase of T-Mobile. First and foremost, it’s going to hurt the consumers and put a screeching halt to innovation in the industry. AT&T does not drive change. They don’t push manufacturers to keep producing new phones with new features. T-Mobile, however, does – and does a good job at it. Do you think that mindset would stay with T-Mobile upon purchase or would it get swallowed by AT&T? I think the latter. Second, it would make AT&T the only GSM carrier in the US, giving it a monopoly on that technology. There’s a reason we have anti-monopoly laws in this country. It hurts the market and it hurts the consumer. The only benefit is to the company.

Fortunately, the FCC has already unofficially stated there’s “no way” they would allow this merger to take place. Thank you FCC for watching out for the consumers. One of my best friends is very opposed to a big government with oversight over business among other things. I think this is a prime example of why the FCC and government regulation is needed. Consumers 1, AT&T 0.

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