I get it—trying to decide between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon for your cell phone service can be super confusing. Each advertises having the "best" network and "fastest" speeds. But which one actually comes out on top when you compare coverage, performance, plans, and more?
Let‘s break down how these wireless giants stack up on the metrics that matter most. I‘ll give you the unbiased info you need to pick your perfect carrier match!
A Quick Comparison Overview
Before we get into the nitty gritty details, here‘s a high-level look at how AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon differ:
- Offers widespread 4G LTE covering 99% of Americans
- Rapidly growing 5G network now reaches over 160 million people
- Reliable service and decent speeds, especially in rural areas
- In the middle for pricing with deals when you bundle services
- America‘s largest 5G network after merging with Sprint
- Fastest 5G speeds averaging 191 Mbps in OpenSignal testing
- Most affordable carrier with great deals for families and unlimited data
- Perks like free Netflix, international roaming, and weekly giveaways
- 4G LTE network is the most extensive, covering over 99% of the population
- Methodically building 5G using advanced mmWave technology
- Top-rated for consistent speeds, low congestion, and reliability
- Premium brand has most expensive plan rates on average
This gives you a taste of what we‘ll cover regarding network availability, speeds, features, and costs. Let‘s explore what really sets these carriers apart.
Comparing Network Coverage and Technology
Having access to a solid network connection wherever you live, work, and travel is obviously essential. Here‘s how AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon coverage footprints measure up.
AT&T Covers 99% of Americans with 4G LTE
AT&T operates America‘s second largest wireless network, trailing just behind Verizon in coverage area. Their coast to coast 4G LTE network blankets 99% of Americans, reaching over 300 million people.
The carrier‘s 850MHz and 1900MHz frequency bands allow their signals to travel far and penetrate buildings effectively. While not as expansive in rural regions as Verizon, AT&T‘s rural coverage is quite robust.
For 5G, AT&T is utilizing a mix of low-band sub-6GHz (850MHz) and mmWave (39GHz) spectrum. This multifaceted approach aims to balance fast speeds with wider accessibility. Their low-band 5G now covers over 160 million people in thousands of cities nationwide.
T-Mobile Has the Most Extensive 5G Thanks to Sprint Merger
Ever since acquiring Sprint in 2020, T-Mobile commands America‘s largest nationwide 5G network. Spanning 1.9 million square miles, their low-band 600MHz and 2.5GHz mid-band 5G reaches around 325 million people.
T-Mobile‘s huge pool of contiguous spectrum translates to 5G signals that can travel for miles and penetrate buildings and trees easily. This extensive coverage footprint gives T-Mobile subscribers far more opportunities to access 5G speeds.
In addition to low-band and mid-band, T-Mobile is deploying high-frequency mmWave 5G in densely populated city centers for a speed boost. Their three-pronged spectrum approach enhances both coverage reach and peak speeds.
Verizon‘s 4G Blankets Over 99% of Americans
Verizon has the most substantial and reliable 4G LTE footprint in America, covering over 99% of the population. Their coast-to-coast 4G network utilizes 700MHz, 1700MHz, and 1900MHz spectrum ideal for rural deployment.
However, Verizon has lagged rivals in deploying 5G nationwide so far. They‘ve chosen to focus on deploying high-frequency mmWave 5G in downtown metro areas to showcase ultra-fast speeds over 1Gbps, rather than wide accessibility.
Verizon‘s mmWave 5G is live in just under 100 cities currently. But their n77 C-Band rollout this year will rapidly expand 5G coverage to many more users across the country.
Comparing Real-World Network Speeds and Performance
It‘s not just coverage reach that determines how fast your network connection feels. Based on recent speed tests, here is how these three carriers compare for real-world 5G and 4G performance.
AT&T Delivers Reliable Speeds, 5G Reach Expanding
According to Opensignal‘s recent testing, AT&T‘s average 4G LTE download speed is 54Mbps—on par with T-Mobile and Verizon‘s LTE speeds. AT&T also scored well for "Consistent Quality," meaning steady speeds without major spikes or drops.
On 5G, AT&T clocks much quicker average speeds of 117Mbps down in Opensignal‘s measurements. However, they trail T-Mobile and Verizon in 5G reach for now—you‘ll encounter AT&T‘s fast 5G less often as their rollout continues.
"AT&T‘s 5G covered around 40% of our test users…compared to around 50% for T-Mobile and Verizon," per Opensignal‘s July 2021 Report.
But AT&T is actively expanding 5G availability using both low and high-band spectrum. Look for their typical 5G speeds and access to improve in 2023.
T-Mobile Delivers Fastest 5G Speeds
Based on Opensignal‘s metrics, T-Mobile showcases America‘s fastest 5G network by a healthy margin. Their users experienced average 5G download speeds of 191Mbps—much quicker than Verizon‘s 116Mbps and AT&T‘s 117Mbps.
T-Mobile also beat both rivals in 5G availability, giving customers access to 5G around 33% of the time tested compared to 27% for AT&T and 30% for Verizon.
The Uncarrier wins 4G LTE speed matchups too, with OpenSignal recording average download speeds of 59Mbps, compared to 58Mbps for Verizon and 54Mbps for AT&T. T-Mobile‘s spectrum depth pays off.
Verizon Excels in Low Congestion and Reliability
Verizon has long reigned supreme when it comes to network quality and consistency. In RootMetrics testing for the first half of 2022, Verizon won outright or shared the disputed RootScore award in every single test category.
Verizon‘s average LTE download speeds of 58Mbps roughly match T-Mobile and AT&T. But stellar ratings for network reliability, low congestion speed drops, and video streaming give Verizon an edge for gaming and HD content on the go.
While Verizon‘s mmWave 5G doesn‘t cover wide swaths yet, it enables incredible peak speeds above 1Gbps based on user tests. Look for coverage expansions in 2023.
Comparing Carrier Plans, Perks and Promotions
Along with pure network performance, wireless providers today compete on the attractiveness of their rate plans and perks. Here‘s how AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon deals stack up.
AT&T Offers Flexible Plans and Entertainment Perks
AT&T gives you plenty of options to find the right plan for your data needs:
- Unlimited plans start at $65/month for an individual line and drop as you add lines
- Prepaid no-contract plans offer reduced pricing
- The Unlimited Elite plan includes an HBO Max subscription
- Unlimited Your Way allows mixing and matching unlimited features
- Discounts for bundling wireless with AT&T home internet, TV, or smart home tech
For families or groups, AT&T unlimited plans become even more affordable per line at higher tier levels. Subscribers can also access mobile hotspot data and HD streaming. AT&T runs frequent smartphone promos too, like BOGO deals.
T-Mobile Caters to Savvy Shoppers and Families
As the "Un-carrier," T-Mobile targets cost-conscious consumers with great deals:
- Unlimited talk, text and data starts at just $50/month for one line
- Netflix Basic included free on many Magenta unlimited plans
- Discounts for adding lines make family plans very affordable
- Deals like 3rd line free, BOGO free flagship phones, and more
- International roaming with unlimited talk and text in 210+ countries
The T-Mobile Tuesdays app also gives subscribers weekly free food, movie tickets, discounts on gas, and more. And their 55+ plans offer big savings for seniors.
Verizon Offers Premium Perks
As Verizon targets higher-income users, their promotions help offset premium pricing:
- Top Play More/Get More unlimited plans include Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+
- Discounts offered when bundling wireless and Fios home internet
- Mobile + tablet or smartwatch plan bundles available
- Loyalty programs reward long-time subscribers
- Perks like 50% off connected devices and 600GB of Verizon Cloud storage
Verizon also runs popular BOGO deals on new Samsung Galaxy devices during their annual Samsung Week event.
Cost Comparison: Who Offers the Best Value?
With carrier plan pricing constantly changing thanks to competition, who offers the best bang-for-your-buck today? Here‘s how wireless bills compare.
AT&T Pricing Sits in the Middle
AT&T‘s plan rates fall squarely in between Verizon and T-Mobile. Their Unlimited Starter plan starts at $65 per month for one line, with multi-line and premium plans costing more.
But AT&T offers ways to reduce your overall bill, like:
- Bundling wireless and home internet for up to $20 per month off
- Multi-line discounts on Unlimited plans can drop per line cost
- Prepaid options without contracts are budget friendly
- Employer discounts, veteran/military discounts, and trade-in credits
Based on 2022 analysis from Consumer Reports, AT&T plans price a median of $5 above T-Mobile and $5 below Verizon per month.
T-Mobile Delivers the Most Affordable Rates
T-Mobile comes out on top when it comes to affordability and plan value:
- Unlimited plans start at just $50/month for one line
- Each added line reduces your per line price
- A family of 4 pays only $25/line on Magenta Max
- Taxes and fees are included, so you pay the advertised rate
- Perks like Netflix, international data, and weekly giveaways
According to Consumer Reports, T-Mobile‘s median single-line bill is around $25/month cheaper than Verizon. And a family of four saves $40/month on average versus AT&T.
Verizon Plans Are Most Expensive
There‘s no getting around it—Verizon‘s latest rate plans sit at the higher end of the pricing spectrum:
- Their Start Unlimited is $70 for one line, and Get More Unlimited is $90
- However, per line costs drop as you add more lines
- Average monthly bills run $10-15 higher than AT&T
- Verizon pricing averages $25/month more than T-Mobile
But for many subscribers, Verizon‘s reputation for superior coverage, speeds, and reliability make the premium worthwhile. Their plans also come with generous entertainment perks.
The Best Wireless Carrier for You Is…
Now that we‘ve explored the key metrics, which network seems like the winner for your needs?
Here are some quick tips on choosing the right carrier:
If blazing fast 5G speeds are important, T-Mobile is tough to beat after merging with Sprint. Their mid-band 5G strikes an excellent balance of speed and coverage.
If you need your network to just work whenever, wherever, seriously consider Verizon. Their reputation for reliability across rural and urban areas is well-earned.
If you live rurally or travel off the beaten path, you‘ll appreciate AT&T or Verizon‘s more expansive rural networks over T-Mobile today.
To connect lots of devices and lines on the cheap, T-Mobile offers the most affordable family and unlimited deals.
If you‘re an entertainment lover, AT&T‘s HBO Max and Verizon‘s Disney+ bundle add appeal and value.
If you‘re a frequent international jet-setter, T-Mobile‘s global roaming provides peace of mind.
If you already subscribe to AT&T or Verizon home services, bundling wireless with them can unlock extra discounts.
If saving cash each month is priority #1, the math proves T-Mobile delivers the most bang for your buck.
No carrier is one-size-fits-all, but this in-depth comparison equipped you with everything needed to determine the ideal wireless provider for your lifestyle and needs. With this knowledge, you can make the choice that suits you best. Happy wireless hunting!