Verizon Is Preferred Carrier, Sprint, ATandT Rank Last

Verizon Wireless was consumers' top choice of mobile carrier, according to a cellular-industry focused survey from Consumer Reports. Other findings include that while iPhone remains a fan favorite, AT&T ranks low when it comes to customer satisfaction. High costs remain a leading complaint.

Verizon Wireless is having quite a year, it turns out.
Not only did it recently experience a win over disgruntled competitor AT&T, in being allowed to continue airing some cheeky ads, and then enjoy a jump in consumer opinion, but in a Dec. 1 statement, Consumer Reports revealed that Verizon was named the preferred carrier by the people it surveyed in 26 cities for its cell-phone-focused January issue.
For the overall cellular industry, however, survey findings were less sunny.
"America is in love with the cell phone, but they are lukewarm about cell phone [service]" Paul Reynolds, an editor at Consumer Reports, wrote in a summary. "They're especially concerned about its cost in these tight economic times."
Of 50,000 readers Consumer Reports surveyed, only 54 percent said they were "completely or very satisfied" with their cell phone service. Two-thirds of respondents had at least one major gripe, and 20 percent said their biggest complaint was high prices. Only 24 percent rated their web and email experiences as "excellent," and 18 percent of email users named sending and receiving issues as a problem.
While customers reportedly rated Verizon above average in every category, including voice connectivity, data services and customer support, its plans are also among the more expensive, and one in five Verizon customers is said to have pointed to this as their major complaint.
T-Mobile ranked second in overall satisfaction. However, while respondents appreciated the carrier's pricing, they were less enthusiastic about its voice, messaging, Web and email services.
Sprint, which ranked fourth in 2008, this year tied with AT&T for the final position. While Sprint and AT&T were statistically tied for third, Sprint's score of 67 just edged out AT&T's score of 66. Sprint's slight edge also meant the carrier improved its overall score for each of the past two years.

"While AT&T's main weak spot is voice connectivity, they also scored below average in every attribute except Web access and texting," wrote Consumer Reports in the statement.
(While AT&T has branded itself the fastest 3G network, Sprint likewise calls itself the most reliable - a distinction that Verizon is now disputing and Sprint is defending.)
A happy bit of news for AT&T, the exclusive U.S. provider of the iPhone, is that Consumer Reports named Apple's phones the top smartphones, both as rated by the company and desired by consumers. Of the iPhone owners surveyed, 98 percent responded that, despite lukewarm feelings toward AT&T, they would buy the iPhone again, Consumer Reports wrote.
Other exclusive phone holdings include the Palm Pre and Pixi on the Sprint network, and the Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless, and Consumer Reports states that 38 percent of survey respondents have switched carriers within the last two year to get a particular phone. Additionally, 27 percent said they shopped with a specific phone in mind.
Other survey findings were an increase in texting and data usage: Since two years ago, the number of respondents who sent and received text messages each day jumped from 55 percent to 70 percent. And while in 2007, 23 percent of respondents were accessing the Internet from their phones, in 2009 that number rose to 40 percent.
The popularity of budget-friendly, prepaid mobile contracts were also found to be on the rise, with Consumer Reports stating that Boost Mobile added 1.5 million new customers in the first half of the year.
Of the services evaluated by the notoriously objective company, Consumer Reports said in the statement that said cell phone services continue to be among the lowest rated.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify Sprint's overall score and the difference between its score and AT&T's score.