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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?

Selection of phone models: 4.33

Customer service/billing: 3.68

Overall rating: 3.71

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 260 AT&T customers

AT&T came in a close second with an overall rating of 3.71 based on solid numbers in every one of the eight categories, just behind Verizon in connection speed, availability and reliability, and generally in line with the other providers in customer service/billing and technical support.

It stands out for phone availability, where it easily led the category with a 4.3 ranking. But like Verizon, it fell down in the value rating, with a 3.3.

Closely matching the overall results, 71% of AT&T customers who took our survey cited network coverage as the No. 1 or 2 reason for choosing the carrier.

Did you choose AT&T based on...

 

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

Coverage: 71%

Specific phone: 43%

Price: 41%

Plan options: 34%

Other: 17%

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 260 AT&T customers

However, AT&T bucked the general trend of respondents considering choice of phone models as unimportant in that decision, with 43% ranking it at 1 or 2.

That's not surprising, given the company's strong satisfaction rating for phone model selection, and it may in part be a legacy from the years when AT&T had an exclusive lock on Apple's iPhone.

No. 3: T-Mobile

T-Mobile user ratings

Average download speed: 3.75

Average upload speed: 3.61

Availability of connection: 3.36

Reliability of connection: 3.28

Performance relative to cost (value): 3.72

Technical support: 3.79

Selection of phone models: 3.93

Customer service/billing: 3.83

Overall rating: 3.66

Source: Computerworld mobile data services survey, 2013

Base: 81 T-Mobile customers

T-Mobile's overall weighted rating of 3.66 isn't far behind AT&T's 3.71, but looking at the individual categories that contributed to T-Mobile's overall rating shows off both its strengths and its weaknesses.

One category stands out above all the rest in T-Mobile's numbers: performance versus cost, which translates into value. T-Mobile's rating of 3.7 is far ahead of Verizon's 3.3 and AT&T's and Sprint's 3.2. Clearly, its decision to buck the status quo of depending on long-term contracts and instead offer contractless and low-cost plans is paying off.

Did you choose T-Mobile based on...

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

Price: 79%

Coverage: 55%

Plan options: 34%

Specific phone: 18%

Other: 15%

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 81 T-Mobile customers

T-Mobile is also rated slightly higher than the other providers for technical support and for customer service/billing, and is tied with Verizon for the top ranking in download speed. Apart from that, it's generally in the middle of the pack.

 

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