Which Carriers Provide the Best Cell Phone Service?

by Mary Schwager, GalTime.com's Consumer Watchdog

Find out who has the best cell phone service.Find out who has the best cell phone service.Consumer Reports ranks wireless providers

Don't you just hate dropped calls? Or being the only person in the room who can't get cell reception? Or better yet, dealing with your cell phone provider's customer service department...good times. Love 'em or hate 'em, cell phones have become a necessary part of life.

When it comes to choosing a cell phone carrier, how do we know who's best? Or even worst? Research giant Consumer Reports answered these questions and more in their annual ratings of wireless providers released last Thursday.

In a survey of 63,000 subscribers ranking the four major cellular carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile), Verizon came out on top, earning the highest scores on voice, data service quality and knowledgeable staff. The remaining three carriers didn't rank as high for voice and text service quality.

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While AT&T ranked among the low-scoring carriers, their 4G LTE network was rated highest of any provider, with users reporting the fewest problems with higher-speed service.

Consumer Cellular, a national carrier that uses AT&T's network, received positive reviews across the board on Consumer Reports' ratings of standard (monthly bill) carriers. The no-frills carrier caters to users with the simplest wireless needs and offers the ease of monthly billing without an annual contract. U.S. Cellular and Credo Mobile also ranked highly.

Increasingly, consumers are switching to "no contract plans" for their cellular needs, and for good reason. According to Consumer Reports, making the switch can yield big savings. Two-thirds of Consumer Reports survey respondents who switched saved more than $20 a month. Prepaid customers can use their monthly savings to quickly recoup the cost of the phone itself, which can be higher without an annual commitment.

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If you're looking for a prepaid plan with no monthly service contract, consider TracFone, Consumer Reports' top rated prepaid carrier, earning high scores for value, voice and text.

Don't think going prepaid means having to sacrifice the smart phone features you know and love. "Some smaller carriers that scored respectably in our Ratings and offer low-priced plans, such as Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile, now offer fairly sophisticated smart phones," said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. "And you can even save by switching a phone from a major carrier that's coming off contract to a prepaid plan."

For a complete rundown of cellular service provider scores and how cell phone carriers are doing in your city, check out the complete Consumer Reports survey.

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