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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?

It's no surprise, then, that 79% of T-Mobile customers named price as the No. 1 or 2 factor in choosing the carrier, well ahead of the 50% average. The second most important factor for T-Mobile customers was network coverage, with 55% ranking it a 1 or a 2 in importance.

No. 4: Sprint

Sprint user ratings

Average download speed: 3.15

Average upload speed: 3.16

Availability of connection: 3.17

Reliability of connection: 3.11

Performance relative to cost (value): 3.17

Technical support: 3.67

Selection of phone models: 4.24

Customer service/billing: 3.73

Overall rating: 3.42

Source: Computerworld mobile data services survey, 2013

Base: 114 Sprint customers

Is there anything that Sprint has to crow about in our survey? Not really, although it can say that it scored in the middle of the pack for technical support, customer service/billing and phone selection. But that's as good as it gets for Sprint.

What really hurts the company in our ratings is how poorly it performs in its users' eyes when it comes to data speed and network reliability. It was dead last in availability, reliability, download speed and upload speed, and by a wide margin.

Did you choose Sprint based on...

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

Price: 66%

Plan options: 55%

Coverage: 51%

Specific phone: 17%

Other: 13%

Source: Computerworld mobile data service survey, 2013

Base: 114 Sprint customers

Sprint customers generally don't think they're getting a good deal, either, because Sprint came in last for value as well.

Despite that, 66% of Sprint customers said price was the No. 1 or 2 reason they chose the carrier, followed by plan options at 55% and network coverage at 51%.

Bottom line

It's a data-centric mobile world, and becoming even more so. That means that data network availability, reliability and speed will continue to be a big differentiator among cell service providers and a primary reason for consumers' carrier choice.

So it's no surprise that Verizon Wireless, which came out on top in our survey for data speed and reliability, has the most U.S. subscribers with 120 million, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. And AT&T, which came in at second fastest in our survey, is also the second most popular provider, with about 105 million subscribers.

But this could all change in a heartbeat: Providers are constantly investing in their data networks, and AT&T and T-Mobile in particular have been rapidly expanding their LTE networks in 2013. And Sprint, which has been hemorrhaging unhappy subscribers, is reportedly considering a buyout of T-Mobile, which would completely change the mobile provider landscape.

 

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