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iPhone 5 Carrier Breakdown: Speed, Coverage, Quality & More

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So you’re going to get the iPhone 5 when it is expected to launch in October. Unlike past iPhone launches, this time around you may have many more choices. If the rumors come true, the iPhone 5 will arrive on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile at the same time.

This is a departure from past iPhone launches which, up until February 2011, was limited to AT&T. Verizon has had the iPhone 4 for several months now, and sold quite a few of these devices. If you have been holding out, there are about to be a few more options.

In this case, choice is great for the consumer. Cell phone networks vary from location to location, which means that the perfect cell phone network for the iPhone in my neighborhood may not be the same in your neighborhood. This guide has gathered call phone carrier rankings across a number of categories to help you make the right choice.

Keep in mind that you’ll be signing up for a two-year contract, so it’s worth taking some time and possibly paying an early termination fee if you need to switch to a carrier with better speeds, coverage, call quality and customer service.

Best Cellphone Network for the iPhone 5

Network Speed – T-Mobile

If you plan to download music, stream Pandora and watch loads of Hulu and Netflix on your iPhone 5, network speed is important. Keep in mind that speed isn’t the only consideration, since speed doesn’t matter when you have no coverage.

To see who has the fastest network, you have to pay attention to the ratings, which often include the super fast 4G LTE networks, which the iPhone 5 won’t likely have access to.

The fastest 3G network in most U.S. areas is T-Mobile, which beat out AT&T, Verizon and Sprint in PC Magazine’s recent cell phone speedtest, which took place in 21 cities across the U.S. While it was beat out by Verizon 4G, this isn’t likely to be a factor with the iPhone 5.

iphone speedtest

T-Mobile beats out the competition on 3G speeds.

Check out the full speed test results to figure out which carrier ranks tops in your region.

Network Coverage – Toss Up

As I mentioned, all the speed in the world won’t help if you don’t have coverage. While most carriers are filling out their networks, even in rural areas, this is one criteria you need to pay a lot of attention to.

The best cell phone network will vary from person to person, the best way to figure out which network is the best fit for you is to ask friends and social network connections in your area who has the best coverage. This anecdotal evidence may be harder to make a decision on, but in my experience is better than aggregated data for ranking coverage, just be sure to take their opinion on a company they currently use, or just left since networks are growing every day.

You can also use a tool like CellReception.com to see what others in your area are saying about cell phone signals, but in rural areas this isn’t going to offer a lot of feedback.

Another excellent tool is the BillShrink Wireless guide. This free to use tool will compare your plan as well as tell you which companies have the best coverage where you live and where you work.

Call Quality – Verizon

iphone call qualityAssuming you’ll use the iPhone to make actual calls, call quality is important, perhaps more important than network speed.

This is another criteria that will vary, but according to J.D. Powers, Verizon has the best network for call quality, and my anecdotal experience backs this up from both ends of the phone call.

According to J.D. Power, Verizon is the top pick in the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, West and is tied with AT&T in the Mid-Atlantic with AT&T. The only company that beat out Verizon completely is US Cellular in the North Central area, but they won’t likely have the iPhone 5.

This is based on the following criteria, “dropped calls; static/interference; failed call connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification.”

Customer Service – T-Mobile

When it comes to customer service, J.D. Powers ranks T-Mobile first place, with a close second taken by Verizon.

T-Mobile picked up the honors with a score of 758 out off 1,000 by delivering better customer service over the phone, answering questions and solving problems faster than the competition.

I wouldn’t expect this to take the top billing, but it is important to keep in mind since you will have to contact customer service at least once while you have your phone.

Pricing and Unlimited Data – Sprint

Pricing between carriers is pretty close per month, but when you take that cost out over the life of a two-year contract, you can save $120 to $240 — roughly the cost of the iPhone 5.

  • Verizon – $79.99 – 450 minutes, 2GB data
  • AT&T – $74.99 - 450 minutes, 2GB data
  • Sprint – $69.99 – 450 minutes, Unlimited data
  • T-Mobile – $69.99 – 500 Minutes, 2GB data

Right now, Sprint is the only carrier that offers unlimited data plans to new customers, which is even more attractive if it gets the iPhone 5. It is possible that Sprint will drop the unlimited plan, or raise the price, when the iPhone 5 comes out like the rest of the carriers have, but this isn’t set in stone.

The Best Network for the iPhone 5 is…

Well, after pouring through this data and plenty of anecdotal accounts, the best network is tough to pick.

If you want call quality and coverage, and are able to take a hit on speed, Verizon looks like the top pick.

If you have great T-Mobile coverage where you use your phone, then the speed and customer service are attractive.

AT&T is tough to get behind. Even though AT&T has decent speeds and OK coverage, the carrier has a long history of issues with call quality and the iPhone, especially in metro areas.

About the only thing Sprint has a clear lock on right now is the fact that they still offer unlimited data, and we don’t know if that will be around come October. If it is, then people who want to switch from a current carrier should look into Sprint’s coverage and speeds in their area.

If I were to get the iPhone 5, I would pick Verizon since the company has the best coverage in my area and I am already a customer so I could keep my unlimited data. If I was looking, Sprint would be the only other option in my area, but their local coverage isn’t as good.

Which Cell Phone Company Will You Buy an iPhone 5 On?

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Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

10 Comments

  1. Jposter

    08/29/2011 at 7:00 pm

    My current Iphone is two years old and ready to be replaced.  However if the new Iphone is not 4G, I will not get another Iphone on a two year contract when so many other phones are already 4G.  I do realize that 4G service is very limited but I suspect that 3G will be very outdated in two more years and I do not want to be stuck with a 3G phone for two more years.

  2. Anonymous

    08/31/2011 at 4:49 pm

    Most excellent article Josh. Its too bad a whole year has passed away and Apple is still not ready with a 4G smartphone. I can’t hardly blame them though with all the floundering around that Motorola and Verizon do. I hope the iphone5 will at least be a world phone even if its only 3G and they could make the screen bigger and better as well.

  3. Anonymous

    09/30/2011 at 11:33 am

    Will not buy the iPhone 5 if it is not VZW LTE 4G capable, which would be the only substantive improvement over the iPhone4.

  4. Duzzy Emf7432

    09/30/2011 at 3:13 pm

    own a HTC thunderbolt/luv it. Also have unlimited data.will wait 4.a.true 4g network phone.I-Phone’6′?

  5. JZ

    10/02/2011 at 6:04 pm

    GOOD BYE AT&T. My contract is over today and I’m moving over to
    Sprint. With their unlimited data I can finally enjoy the iPhone with
    ALL of their apps. Just imagine listening to Pandora all-day long and
    watching TV episodes without going over the ridiculous 2gig limit.
    Beautiful!! The best part of it is that I am not going to be penalized
    for the data usage (UNLIMITED).

    What a relief —

    • Gotsider

      03/26/2012 at 9:52 am

      Their customer service is less then desirable, theyve taken my one year upgrade that they promised when i signed my contract but told me i could buy my upgrade back for 85$ That still only gets me $150 off a new phone. Considering the problems ive had? canceling my contract is only 90$….. Ill be going to Verizon. As stated above, come october be ready for sprint to drop their unlimited data just like they did 100% upgrades after 12 months. p.s. the numerous calls i made to customer service regarding coverage and performance were never documented so every time i called in to find out if i had outtages and talk to some one i always get “sir youve never called and complained before?”……………….. Very frustrating. Dont bother.

    • MEGADEATH

      07/01/2012 at 8:22 pm

      JEJEJE YOU DONT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT MY FRIEND….! I WAS SPRINT CUSTOMER FOR LONG TIME, WITH ALL HIGH PERFORMANCE SMARTHPHONES, HTC EVO,SAMSUNG GALAXY, MOTOROLA PHOTON,IPHONE, ETC…THE SPRINT COVERAGE IS SOCKS, ”NO GOOD SIGNAL” THE DATA IS UNLIMITED, THATS TRUE, BUT IS ”SUPER SLOWWWW” ATT HAS A VERY GOOD COVERAGE, THE INTERNET SPEED IS VERY FAST, THE CALL QUALITY IS PERFECT….DONT WASTE YOU MONEY IN SPRINT, JUST REMEMBER..THE CHEAPEST THING ARE MORE EXPENSIVE…..GOOD LUCK!!!

    • MEGADEATH

      07/01/2012 at 8:25 pm

      AHH, ONE MORE THING, THE 2G SPEED OF TMOBILE OR ATT IS FASTER THAN 4G SPRINT TRUST ME!!! SPRINT IS ”CDMA TECHNOLOGY” THAT IS OLD SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY SUPER SLOWWW!!!!

  6. Kgrobles60

    10/05/2011 at 6:18 am

    Iam looking foward to go to sprint just to have the unlimited web. Iam been wanting an Iphone for sooooo long, now is the time. I hope SPRINT doesnt change the unlimited web for the iphone.

  7. Docbolton

    10/12/2011 at 9:44 pm

    Anecdotal data or not, you are admittedly a Verizon customer, and your article pushes Verizon hard.  Seems like potential for a conflict of interest.  I’m not trying to start a flame war, but honestly I’d have to see the data.  Also not addressed is the propensity of Verizon to over-bill and openly admit that they over billed, admit that they are wrong and then have the audacity to state that they will not refund your money because you never called the customer service line.  The rest of the story is that this was a business account that had a “BSE” representative that dropped the ball and after several months of email contact with the individual with his promises and not followthrough he left the company.  The company hung the entire mess on him, and told us to pack sand.  Needless to say it is under review with my attorney. 

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