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The votes are in: Which mobile data provider is best?

Preston Gralla | Feb. 4, 2014
Which U.S. cell phone service is the best when it comes to what you really use a phone for these days -- data? Which gives you the most widespread and reliable access to its data network, fast upload and download speeds, the most bang for your buck?

When it comes to what you might consider the "softer" categories of technical support, customer service/billing and phone selection, there was no great difference among the service providers, although AT&T was notable for a 4.3 rating for phone selection — the single highest rating for any category in the entire survey — with Sprint just behind it at 4.2. Verizon came in at a 4, and T-Mobile with a 3.9.

For customer support/billing, the providers were all bunched at 3.7, except for T-Mobile, which inched ahead with a 3.8. T-Mobile was also favored for technical support with a 3.8, followed by Verizon and Sprint with 3.7 and AT&T with 3.6.

Following are capsule descriptions for each provider.

Note: If you'd like to see the raw figures we used to calculate these final numbers, see our Final Results chart (download PDF).

No. 1: Verizon Wireless

Verizon user ratings

Average download speed: 3.85

Average upload speed: 3.76

Availability of connection: 3.94

Reliability of connection: 3.83

Performance relative to cost (value): 3.31

Technical support: 3.66

Selection of phone models: 4.04

Customer service/billing: 3.69

Overall rating: 3.76

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 304 Verizon customers

Verizon was the favorite provider for a simple reason: It had the best data speed and reliability rankings of all the providers. It swept every one of these categories, getting 3.8 in download speed, upload speed and reliability of connection and 3.9 in availability of connection.

It's no coincidence that Verizon offers the broadest LTE network coverage in the U.S. (although its competitors are rapidly building out their LTE networks as well). Indeed, 86% of Verizon customers ranked network coverage as the No. 1 or 2 reason for choosing the provider, compared with 71% of respondents overall.

Did you choose Verizon based on...

Percentage of Verizon customers who ranked each reason 1 or 2, where 1 is most important and 5 least important

Coverage: 86%

Price: 39%

Plan options: 38%

Specific phone: 25%

Other: 14%

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 304 Verizon customers

That doesn't mean, though, that Verizon customers necessarily think they're getting the most bang for their buck. The carrier's 3.3 rating was well behind T-Mobile's 3.7 for performance relative to the cost of the service.

But price isn't a generally a primary reason people choose Verizon: Only 39% of Verizon customers ranked it as the No. 1 or 2 factor in the decision of which carrier to use.

No. 2: AT&T

AT&T user ratings

Average download speed: 3.72

Average upload speed: 3.62

Availability of connection: 3.75

Reliability of connection: 3.63

Performance relative to cost (value): 3.35

Technical support: 3.58


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