It’s getting interesting now, 2 more spots left in our best deal in wireless survey. As we settle in to our number 2 carrier option, we have to look at how the scores were set up. We rated the nationwide carriers based on four categories: Cost, Device Selection, Customer Service and Coverage. We tested the networks in four cities across the US: Seattle, San Francisco, Wichita and Philadelphia. We received no compensation for the tests and phones used were purchased from retail outlets. The scoring system was pretty basic but effective. Ratings were based on a scale of 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. We used a multiplier system on the cost (2x) and coverage (5x) for a total of 90 possible points.
Now that we have the scoring system clarified, we can get down to our number two carrier. AT&T Wireless, and specifically their GoPhone service, offers smartphone users a pretty good deal. We didn’t run in to any problems activating the service on any of our devices – after having to purchase a $10 GoPhone to get the SIM card for the prepaid service. The $25 payment got us 250 minutes and unlimited texting. For another $25 we also signed on for 1GB of data, bringing the total to $50 per month for a pretty decent service. The advantage of the AT&T network is the ability to use any unlocked GSM phone (quad-band devices are very cheap on ebay or Amazon) and the fact that you can change what plan you want on the fly – both minutes and data for the next billing cycle. The max plan included $50 for unlimited voice/text and $25 for 1GB of data.
Cost Rating: 8
We just covered that any 850/900 mHz device can be used on AT&T’s network. This makes an amazing array of devices available for the GoPhone service. We did hit a few hitches with device setup, but AT&T’s customer service helped us out of most of the issues. The greatest part of AT&T’s GoPhone service is that the iPhone is native to AT&T’s network, so no additional settings need to be adjusted. Our only knock on the service is that activating some non-AT&T phones required a bit of begging the rep, or purchasing an AT&T phone to activate the service before slipping it into our new smartphones.
Device Selection: 9
We were shocked. AT&T did a stellar job in all 4 markets that we worked with them. Techs were quick to offer help and the customer service agents were even faster at porting in our numbers and making our new phones work fast. With dumb phone options from the $10 mark, even if you lose your device on a trip somewhere, you can quickly grab a replacement phone at a 7-11 or a Radio Shack. Refill cards are also available everywhere and recharging can be done from the device, web or set up on automatic refills.
Customer Service: 9
Now for the one that pushed them to the top of the heap, their coverage. In all four markets, we found excellent coverage with very few dropped calls and amazing clarity. For all the knocks that AT&T takes for their network, we found our experience quite pleasant. The clarity from our older iPhone 3GS, HTC Radar 4G, Samsung Focus and BlackBerry Bold was simply awesome. The signal strength penetrated even the worst spaces for us and messaging didn’t miss a beat. Overall, it was everything we could ask for in a carrier – and more.
We do want to point out that coverage is very dependent on the area you live in, so be sure to check that coverage map before you spend a few $ on that phone and plan. You can check your area for about $20 by purchasing a GoPhone with a $10 airtime card included.
It’s worth noting that 2 out of the 5, Best Value’s that we came across were direct from carriers. There’s something to be said for having a relationship with a carrier directly rather than going through a lower cost – possibly worse service providing MVNO. Either way, AT&T really did a nice job for us. With their GoPhone package, albeit with limited data, cost us about $75 a month less than running the full package through their post paid programs.
The AT&T network is constantly blasted for it’s lack of 4G markets, dropped calls and poor coverage. Fortunately for us, we all experienced a great time on the network. If they could just roll that all you can eat pricing down to $60 and double that data, we’d have a winner here. Unfortunately, that $75 price tag for unlimited minutes, text and 1GB of data just put it a bit behind our winner… Which you will see later this week.