Observations about cellular carriers in the US, broken down by performance based on location, and reported by state. This information is gathered either from personal experience or from reports by contributors in the field.
With mostly urban areas, there is little difference among the Top 4. Verizon Wireless and AT&T have the more established networks. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, now offers better building penetration than before, and Sprint also does an acceptable job in most places. TracFone and StraightTalk work very well in Rhode Island.
There's little difference between AT&T and Verizon Wireless for the best cell phone coverage in South Carolina. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, offers excellent service across most of the region with the exception of a few areas in the northeast part of the state. If you live in the northeastern part of the state, US Cellular is a top choice especially if your travels take you over the North Carolina line. Sprint does well along highways and in the cities but has some rural areas without coverage. TracFone and StraightTalk work very well in all of South Carolina.
AT&T now has a slight edge in the area with Verizon Wireless a close second. There are often significant local differences between the two. T-Mobile has introduced their "Extended" coverage into large parts of the southern half of South Dakota which works very well. Standing Rock Wireless has been built to serve the Standing Rock Reservation and even the major carriers admit Standing Rock serves the area better than they do. Sprint covers mainly the urban areas and some highways. Aberdeen, South Dakota has their own wireless carrier, NVC Wireless, which is worth checking out if you live there. TracFone and Straight Talk do well in most areas.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless are about tied for coverage in Tennessee. US Cellular, one of our highest-rated carriers, serves most of eastern Tennessee, and if that includes your neighborhood, give them serious consideration. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, offers excellent service across a small part of rural Tennessee. Sprint has adequate coverage in populated areas and along major highways but not rural Tennesse. If you live close to Memphis and most of your travel is south into Mississippi, we heartily recommend that state's best carrier, C Spire Wireless which also serves much of western Tennessee. A little farther to the east, MobileNation serves a small part of rural Tennessee between Menphis and Nashville. TracFone and StraightTalk work in most areas, with the ability to choose whichever carrier is available. There are a few small carriers that get good marks for serving their home area quite well. Coverage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite variable. Public records indicate good service near the entrances to the park but signals within the park are unreliable.
For a state as large as Texas, it's difficult to declare any carrier "The Best", but if we had to choose, it would be AT&T. Through mergers, acquisitions and government generosity, they ended up with more of the best spectrum available. But they do not dominate in west Texas where, after the takeover of the Alltel network, Verizon Wireless is now tops. T-Mobile, with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage, offers excellent service across most of Texas with the exception of the southeast corner of the state. Sprint works reasonably well in populated areas and along major highways but leaves many rural areas without coverage. Wichita Falls and surrounding areas are lucky to have US Cellular available, one of our top-rated carriers. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across the entire state. There is a handful of small carriers in the state with widely varying quality, many of which offer reasonable Unlimited local plans. West Central Wireless around the Hill Country is a good choice for both coverage and service. Tampnet provides cellular service in the Gulf of Mexico, however, AT&T and T-Mobile customers can roam on the Tampnet network.
US VIRGIN ISLANDS:
AT&T is reported to have the most cell sites and currently has a lead in coverage in the US Virgin Islands. Viya Mobile has benefitted from the combination of 2 networks that now provide very good wireless coverage. Sprint serves most of the island with coverage that is a step below AT&T but Sprint has agreed to a joint operating agreement with Open Mobile to serve the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This is not an acquisition and the transition should be smooth but it may not immediately improve service to Sprint users in USVI.
Verizon Wireless has the overall lead in the state for coverage. AT&T has some noticeable urban dead spots, but in rural Utah, AT&T has taken over the excellent Alltel network which, on average, provides very good rural coverage. Rural Utah north of I-70 is served best by Strata Networks whose superior network extends across the border into Wyoming and extreme northwest Colorado. Sprint gets the nod next in the state due to good in-town coverage and features, and coverage on major highways. TracFone and Straight Talk have coverage available in most of the state. T-Mobile does well within urban areas, but doesn't measure up to the CDMA carriers outside of the cities. There are several small carriers in Utah that deserve consideration as long as they cover where you go including Choice Wireless that serves several rural areas and small towns across the south border of the state with good coverage and competitive plans. Hey look, Manti County has their own carrier, Breakaway Wireless, with good 3G service and "local" coverage on other rural portions of the state. Utah is one of the few places with no coverage on significant sections of Interstate highways, including I-70 west of Green River and I-80 east of Salt Lake City. There are several popular national parks in Utah and some of them have good cellular service, however, that service is supplied from outside park boundaries and cannot be relied upon in areas inside each park. Also, a large percentage of Utah is covered by National Forest lands which generally do not permit cellular sites.
Our top choice in Vermont is US Cellular with a slight coverage advantage and consumer-friendly policies. Since US Cellular isn't available in the entire area, Verizon Wireless gets the top honors elsewhere. AT&T is generally a step above in the mountain areas. Sprint has adequate coverage on their own network in most towns and along major highway corridors with help from the VTel network for broadband in rural areas of the state (although, we haven't been able to verify that this is actually working). TracFone and Straight Talk are also good choices over most of New England. We have no reports on T-Mobile in the northeast although we expect some improvements with their new 4G LTE "Extended" coverage in populated areas.
From the few reports we have received in this area, AT&T appears to have the advantage in coverage, with Verizon Wireless is a close second, and has a few communities with better coverage based on local conditions. Sprint, after recent acquisitions, now covers most populated areas of Virgina. T-Mobile has been expanding in the eastern half of the state and serves some of the urban areas and highways of western parts of Virginia. US Cellular serves the western part of the state and is our preference over most others there. If you live along the Kentucky or West Virgina borders, check out Appalachian Wireless with some of the best coverage in those areas. Straight Talk and TracFone also serve the entire area.
Seattle is the former home of AT&T Wireless and that may have contributed to their superior coverage in Washington. Verizon has expanded to a strong second choice, 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. Southeast Washington is well-served by Inland Cellular. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices over the entire region.
AT&T appears to have the advantage in coverage, with US Cellular as another great choice for extensive coverage in West Virginia. Verizon Wireless is a close second with a few communities with better coverage based on local conditions. Sprint, after recent acquisitions, now covers most populated areas of the state. Appalachian Wireless provides very good service along the Virgina border. T-Mobile does not cover West Virginia. Straight Talk and TracFone serve most of the state.
Verizon Wireless has several coverage and frequency advantages including the northern reaches of Wisconsin and the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. About half of the region is covered by US Cellular and if they're in your neighborhood, we prefer them over almost all others. AT&T is the leader in a few areas including certain rural locations, but they suffer in some urban areas. Sprint performs equally well as AT&T in many cities, including Milwaukee and Madison, but they suffer in rural areas. T-Mobile, does not have much service outside of the urban areas of the southeastern part of the state. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across the whole state.
Verizon Wireless covers the largest amount of territory in Wyoming. Wyoming's own Union Wireless does a very good job, especially across the western half of the state. The northwest quarter of the state is home to Silver Star Wireless that operates a system that provides coverage in several areas where other carriers have none. AT&T covers most of the eastern half of the state, with coverage yet to be built on the western half. TracFone and Straight Talk are good choices across most of the state. T-Mobile has installed several new sites along I-25 and I-80 giving them good coverage, however, you must use one of their new 600 MHz-capable phones. Other than a few sites in Cheyenne, Sprint has little service in Wyoming. There are a few small carriers that do a respectable job locally, and may provide the best signal in some communities including Choice Wireless serving a few small towns with good coverage and competitive plans. Yellowstone National Park has coverage in several areas: near park entrances, at Yellowstone Lake, around Old Faithful and a few other locations, but service cannot be relied upon in many areas of the park.
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