As smartphones continue to dominate and mobile broadband replaces old wires, the battle for wireless coverage superiority rages on between telecom titans Verizon and AT&T. With hundreds of millions of subscribers relying on these networks across the United States, understanding the key differences between Verizon and AT&T‘s coverage has never been more important.
In this comprehensive comparison guide, we‘ll analyze how Verizon and AT&T‘s networks stack up in 2023 across these all-important categories:
- 4G LTE and 5G availability
- Network speeds and reliability
- Pricing of data plans
- Extent of nationwide and rural coverage
- Strengths and weaknesses
After looking at the data and trends, we‘ll be able to definitively answer: does Verizon or AT&T claim the coverage crown? Let‘s dive in.
How Verizon and AT&T‘s Coverage Maps Compare
First, we need to understand how the basic size and reach of Verizon and AT&T‘s networks compare at a high level.
Verizon has the largest overall network in the United States, covering an estimated 70% of the total population or over 230 million people. The latest figures show Verizon‘s 4G LTE network blanketing 2.4 million square miles nationwide, from busy megacities to rural country sides.
AT&T comes in second, with a coverage footprint reaching approximately 68% of Americans across 1.7 million square miles. While still expansive, AT&T‘s network is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to the total size and population covered.
In particular, Verizon tends to offer better rural coverage and availability outside of major metro areas where AT&T coverage starts to taper off. According to recent FCC data, over 30% of rural test locations could access Verizon‘s 4G network compared to just 20% for AT&T.
Both networks now offer 5G connections using ultra-fast millimeter wave or lower band frequencies, but the next generation technology is still extremely limited in availability. Verizon 5G currently covers less than 11% of the population while AT&T has expanded their service slightly more, now reaching around 18%.
|Carrier||4G LTE Coverage||5G Coverage|
|Verizon||70% population||11% population|
|AT&T||68% population||18% population|
So in terms of pure network size, Verizon maintains the advantage of being the nation‘s largest wireless network. But coverage percentages alone don‘t reveal the true quality of connections. For that, we have to dig deeper into speed and reliability metrics.
Speed and Reliability: How the Networks Compare
According to nearly every network analysis and independent speed testing organization, Verizon consistently delivers the fastest and most reliable 4G LTE connections nationwide.
- Verizon‘s median download speed clocked in at a blazing fast 40 Mbps in OpenSignal‘s 2022 testing, compared to just 25 Mbps for AT&T.
- Ookla Speedtest‘s crowdsourced data for 2022 similarly showed Verizon‘s average 4G download speed beating AT&T by 10 Mbps or more in every region.
- RootMetrics comprehensive network drive testing named Verizon the outright fastest and most reliable network over the first half of 2022.
Some of this advantage comes from Verizon‘s spectrum holdings, which include strong coverage in the 700MHz and 850MHz bands that provide excellent range and in-building access. But it also reflects Verizon‘s edge in infrastructure and congestion management. AT&T simply can‘t match Verizon‘s speeds in many metro and rural areas.
Of course, speed test data paints with broad strokes and yields varying results locally. As anyone who travels regularly knows, network quality fluctuates by exact location. If you live downtown in a major city, AT&T may deliver blazing fast speeds right on par with Verizon LTE. But as soon as you start moving into the suburbs or countryside, Verizon pulls ahead. Their consistent coverage makes them the safe choice if you need reliability across areas.
So Verizon has a clear speed and reliability edge for 4G based on the data. But how do the two compare when it comes to next-gen 5G networks?
The 5G Coverage Race Heats Up
Verizon and AT&T are also competing fiercely to build out lightning fast 5G networks across the country. While the two have taken different approaches to deploying 5G, coverage remains sparse and limited for both:
- Verizon 5G utilizes super fast millimeter wave spectrum for massive bandwidth, but range is highly limited. Verizon 5G is live in parts of just 70 cities across the country.
- AT&T has opted to use lower band frequencies (like 700Mhz) which sacrifice some speed for much wider range. AT&T offers 5G in parts of over 160 metro areas.
In terms of raw 5G availability, AT&T has been more aggressive in rollout and covers more ground. But when it comes to 5G speeds where networks overlap, Verizon‘s millimeter wave 5G blows the doors off, delivering up to 10X the throughput of AT&T‘s low-band 5G in some tests.
The bottom line is 5G coverage and speeds are still highly variable and limited for both carriers. AT&T may technically offer 5G in more metro areas, but actual accessibility depends hugely on your proximity to a compatible cell site. 5G networks are still in their infancy and will take 3-5 years before matching 4G‘s ubiquity.
Plan Pricing and Options: Who Offers Better Value?
In addition to network coverage and speeds, the two carriers take very different approaches when it comes to plan options and pricing:
- Verizon wins on pricing transparency and value. Their cheapest unlimited 4G plan starts at just $35/month while their entry unlimited 5G plan runs $70/month – all taxes and fees included.
- AT&T prepaid plans are listed cheaper at face value but you pay extra monthly fees on top. Comparable AT&T prepaid unlimited plans start at $50/month for 4G and $75/month for 5G after added fees.
Verizon also offers more flexibility for families looking to mix and match unlimited data allotments. But AT&T provides some unique advantages for those willing to bundle mobile with TV, internet, and home phone services.
Both carriers run frequent promos offering up to $10-15/month off per line when you switch. But all things being equal, Verizon has the pricing advantage in a head to head matchup. Their transparency and value on prepaid plans stand out as exceptionally competitive.
The Verdict: Who Has Better Overall Coverage in 2023?
When we tally up all the key metrics from network availability to speed, reliability and pricing, Verizon emerges as the winner in this coverage battle:
- Verizon has the largest and most reliable 4G LTE network by a wide margin, even in rural areas.
- Early 5G deployment slightly favors AT&T but actual availability remains extremely sparse for both.
- Verizon‘s mix of pricing transparency, prepaid value, and plan flexibility is hard to beat.
Of course, real world performance varies locally so be sure to check recent reviews for your neighborhood. But for consistent nationwide coverage and maximum speeds, Verizon is hard to beat. With the largest subscriber base and network, they are likely to maintain this lead in coverage as 5G expands across America.