10 Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Wireless Carrier

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2013-03-28

10 Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Wireless Carrier

Choosing a wireless carrier just a year ago wasn't all that difficult. In the United States, it meant deciding between Verizon and its massive network or AT&T and its steady collection of outstanding devices.

But then Apple changed everything when it delivered its iPhone to Sprint, and T-Mobile recently made it even more difficult by announcing new plans and pricing structures that are shaking up the entire industry.

Choosing a wireless carrier now is by no means simple. Some folks just stick with the company they've been with forever because, well, it's a pain to change. At the same time, many people don't realize that they can very easily port their numbers to other carrier networks. In other words, the barriers that kept customers closely tied to their providers in the past have come down. Now, whether a person is a new cell phone owner or is looking for a new carrier, the opportunities have never been greater.

But what makes a good carrier better than others? Being able to choose a new carrier is not the problem. Deciding what factors are important when making an informed decision is the real issue.

Here is what all wireless customers should be thinking about when they decide which carrier is right for them:

1. Which company has the best devices?

First things first: Which carrier has the best devices? Until T-Mobile's recent announcement, it certainly wasn't that company, since it wasn't offering the iPhone. However, the iPhone is coming to T-Mobile. The other carriers also have their own stellar selection of devices with each company claiming to have the deepest lineup. The truth, though, is that it's up to the customer to decide which is best.

2. How's the wireless coverage?

Much of the talk in the smartphone market is about data plans and their costs. But it's still important to determine which carrier has the best wireless coverage in your particular area. Where I live, for example, Verizon is simply the best. AT&T, however, doesn't work in certain areas. It's a huge issue.

3. And what about the 4G LTE rollouts?

The 4G LTE network rollouts are taking place at a torrid pace all across the United States. Right now, Verizon's network covers most U.S. residents, and AT&T is hot on its heels. T-Mobile just recently launched its network, but expects to cover 200 million people around the United States by year's end. All of that should be taken into account when choosing the right carrier.

4. Pricing, of course

Pricing is always a big concern for customers, and it should be. It's not necessarily easy to determine which company will offer the cheapest plan. Right now, it might just be T-Mobile. The company is eliminating subsidies and selling handsets at cheaper prices. Plus it's offering unlimited calling and texting with the customer's choice of data. T-Mobile is delivering great deals.

10 Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Wireless Carrier

5. Plan simplicity

It's important to choose a carrier that has plans that can be readily understood. Verizon, for example, has a convoluted plan structure that requires users to match up the number and type of devices they have, how much data they want and how many text messages per month they need. It can get unwieldy for large families.

6. GSM or CDMA?

Do you often travel overseas? Are you looking for the option to switch from one carrier to another? If so, GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile might be the way to go. If none of that matters, then opting for a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) carrier like Verizon or Sprint might make sense. Think seriously about the back-end technology.

7. What about regional carriers?

All of this talk of carriers has focused on the major carriers. However, there are a host of regional carriers that are delivering really great services for people in certain parts of the country. Check those companies out and decide if that matters.

8. Does prepaid matter?

Although the majority of customers in the wireless industry are so-called "postpaid subscribers," which means they pay for the amount of service they use each month. There's also the option to go with prepaid services on smaller networks or on major carriers. But if you are looking for a prepaid service, your choices might be limited.

9. Customer service

Each year, Consumer Reports and J.D. Power rate the carriers on their customer service. And each year, they all perform quite poorly. Still, some are better than others when it comes to different kinds of service like phone, email, chat and product support. So do your research, and figure out which of those might be most important for you.

10. An eye to the future

The wireless industry might be one of the most innovative from a product-design perspective, but when it comes to carriers, it falls short in a big way. So, think about the carriers' desire to do something special or unexpected in the future. Are they innovative and have an eye on the future, or do they want to keep things the same? If you're one of the more innovative types, choosing a company that eschews outdated ideas might be a good idea.

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