Alaska is known for its rugged beauty and adventurous spirit, but staying connected via cell phone can be a challenge. With a small population spread across a vast wilderness, cellular coverage is spotty at best in many parts of the state. However, Alaskans have options when it comes to choosing a cell phone carrier. In this comprehensive guide, we will compare the top three providers in Alaska – GCI, AT&T, and Verizon – to help you find the best cell phone plan based on your needs and location.
Key Factors to Consider
When researching cell phone plans in Alaska, keep the following factors in mind:
- Coverage area – The reach of each carrier‘s network varies widely across the state. Be sure to check coverage maps for the areas where you live, work, and play.
- Price – Plans range from budget options under $50/month to premium unlimited plans over $100/month. Understand data thresholds and features to find the right value.
- Network technology – 5G networks are still limited but expanding. Make sure your device and plan support the fastest connections.
- Family/group plans – Most carriers offer discounted pricing for multiple lines. Shared data plans can provide more value.
- Customer service – Having knowledgeable support for network or billing issues is crucial when reception is spotty.
Keeping these aspects in mind will help you select the carrier that best fits your lifestyle and location in Alaska. Now let‘s dive into the details on the top three providers.
As Alaska‘s largest telecom company, GCI stakes its reputation on providing reliable service across the state.
GCI claims to cover 97% of Alaskans, focused primarily on major cities and towns. However, their coverage map shows significant gaps in rural areas and wilderness regions. GCI‘s network utilizes a mix of 4G LTE and 5G connections. 5G service is currently only available in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, and a few other small towns along the Glenn Highway.
Plans and Pricing
GCI offers both prepaid and postpaid plans. Their postpaid options include:
- Explore – $60/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 3GB mobile hotspot.
- Elevate – $75/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 10GB mobile hotspot.
- Apex – $95/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 50GB mobile hotspot.
Additonal lines receive discounted pricing. All postpaid plans include 5G access where available.
Prepaid options are also available starting at $25/month for 1GB data. GCI offers a $5/month discount for autopay enrollment.
GCI provides a wide range of services beyond wireless in Alaska, including cable TV, internet, and landline phone service. Bundling mobile with other services can provide additional value.
The biggest downside with GCI is their limited rural coverage. Reception quickly fades in remote areas. Customer service ratings also tend to be mediocre. However, GCI knows Alaska and invests heavily in their in-state network.
As the second largest wireless carrier in the U.S., AT&T offers robust service in many parts of Alaska.
AT&T reports covering 99% of Alaskans. They offer a mix of 4G LTE and 5G across most populated areas of the state. However, AT&T‘s rural coverage also has significant gaps according to their map. Areas without native AT&T service roam on local partner networks.
Plans and Pricing
AT&T wireless plans include:
- Unlimited Starter – $65/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data. No mobile hotspot.
- Unlimited Extra – $75/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 15GB mobile hotspot.
- Unlimited Elite– $85/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 40GB mobile hotspot.
Discounts for additional lines and autopay enrollment may apply. All plans include 5G access where available.
AT&T offers entertainment perks like HBO Max included on Unlimited Elite. They also have great bundling options with internet, TV service, and smart home integration. Top-rated customer service is a hallmark of AT&T.
AT&T has fewer local retail stores in Alaska which can make in-person support less convenient. Their coverage also has more holes compared to GCI, especially in remote regions. Throttled data speeds have been a complaint with AT&T unlimited plans.
As the largest wireless carrier nationwide, Verizon has invested substantially in their Alaska network.
Verizon claims to reach over 98% of Alaskans. Their coverage map shows solid availability across most major population centers but gaps in rural areas persist. Where present, Verizon offers both 4G LTE and 5G connectivity.
Plans and Pricing
Verizon plan options consist of:
- Start Unlimited – $70/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data. No mobile hotspot.
- Play More Unlimited – $80/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 15GB mobile hotspot.
- Do More Unlimited – $90/month. Unlimited talk, text, and data with 50GB mobile hotspot.
Discounts apply for multiple lines and autopay. 5G access is included where available.
Verizon customers get access to premium entertainment like Disney+ and Apple Music. Verizon also has strong partnerships for bundling wireless with Fios internet and TV. Their customer service ratings are second only to AT&T.
As with other national carriers, Verizon‘s remote coverage has gaps. Their plans can also get expensive compared to local options like GCI for unlimited data. Throttling of unlimited plans has also been an issue with Verizon.
The Best Cell Phone Carrier For You
So which carrier comes out on top for cell phone plans in Alaska? Here is a quick comparison:
|Carrier||Coverage||Starting Price||5G||Hotspot Data||Perks|
|GCI||Good metro, poor rural||$60/month||Limited areas||3GB||Local service bundles|
|AT&T||Good metro, poor rural||$65/month||Solid availability||15GB||Entertainment bundles|
|Verizon||Good metro, poor rural||$70/month||Solid availability||15GB||Top-rated service|
Ultimately, the "best" carrier comes down to where you need coverage and what plan fits your data usage and budget.
If you live in a well-connected urban area like Anchorage, any of these three carriers will provide a solid experience. Rural Alaskans may want to lean toward GCI for better local service. And frequent travelers across the state need to check coverage maps carefully to identify problem areas.
Prioritize carriers offering 5G in locations you frequent for future-proof speed. Pick an unlimited plan with ample hotspot data if you rely on connecting other devices. And choosing a carrier that offers entertainment or service bundles can provide additional value over time.
Just remember – no carrier is perfect statewide given Alaska‘s vast and rugged landscape. But with a bit of research into local options, you can find a plan that keeps you connected wherever your Alaskan adventures take you!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best cell phone carrier in Alaska for rural areas?
For rural Alaskans, local provider GCI offers the most extensive coverage and local customer support. However, significant gaps exist so be sure to check their coverage map for the remote areas where you live, work, and recreate.
How much do unlimited cell phone plans cost in Alaska?
Unlimited talk, text, and data plans from major carriers like GCI, AT&T, and Verizon typically start around $65/month for a single line. Discounts for auto-pay and multiple lines can reduce the per person cost for families.
Which cell phone companies offer 5G service in Alaska?
GCI, AT&T, and Verizon are all expanding 5G coverage across Alaska. Availability is still limited primarily to larger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks. Verify that 5G reaches your area before choosing a 5G device or plan.
What are the best cheap cell phone plans in Alaska?
GCI and AT&T both offer prepaid plans under $50/month that provide talk, text, and 1-10GB of data on their Alaska networks. For inexpensive basic service, these prepaid options allow you to control costs with limited data needs.
Can I use an unlocked phone on Alaskan carriers?
Yes, unlocked phones can be activated on GCI, AT&T, or Verizon plans in Alaska. Ensure any unlocked device supports LTE band 12 and/or band 71 for the best coverage, along with 5G if available. Confirm compatibility during activation.
The Bottom Line
Finding cell phone service in Alaska‘s vast wilderness can be daunting. By comparing providers based on your location and usage needs, Alaskans can stay affordably connected. Weigh coverage, price, 5G availability, and other carrier perks to select the right plan for any Alaskan lifestyle.