CR's Cellphone Service Rankings May Help Businesses More Than Consumers
Consumer Reports is just doing what it does -- dutifully listing the best and worst cellphone service providers. Its findings might be extremely helpful, considering that the carriers are so adept at misleading advertising. The problem is there's no reliable way for individuals to know which carrier provides the best coverage in the areas they frequent the most other than by trying them out.
12/03/12 7:00 AM PT
It's that time of year again: Consumer Reports has published its annual list of best cellphone carriers. Verizon is at the top, having received the most favorable scores for voice and data service quality. It also scored well for staff knowledge and resolution of issues.
Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T each got middle to low marks, especially in the voice and text service quality categories.
AT&T received a mixed review. It was among the lower-scoring providers, but its 4G LTE network was rated the most favorably of any carrier, with users reporting the fewest problems with that higher-speed service.
The report, which appears in the current issue of the magazine, also notes that Consumer Cellular, a national carrier that uses AT&T's network, received high marks in the ratings of standard, or month-to-month, carriers.
No-Contract Plan Savings
Consumer Reports also delved into the economics of using no-contract plans and concluded they can be major cost-savers for consumers. Two-thirds of survey respondents told Consumers Reports that they had saved about US$20 or more each month by switching to a prepaid plan. The savings allowed customers to recoup the higher cost of devices that carriers typically do not subsidize for prepaid customers.
TracFone is among the top-rated prepaid providers.
A Consumer Reports spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details.
Who's the Best?
If it seems as though Verizon routinely wins the top rating on the Consumer Reports list, that is because it does, said Jeff Kagan, an independent tech analyst.
"Over the last several years, Verizon has always done well in these reports," he told the E-Commerce Times.
That said, does Consumer Reports necessarily serve as the best guide for consumers looking to choose a carrier?
Not really, Kagan said. "The deciding factor for consumers is which carrier will give you the best connectivity -- and that varies, depending of course on location."
AT&T and Verizon were not that far apart in terms of quality of connectivity, he noted. Nor were Sprint and T-Mobile, although their areas of coverage are not as broad.
Budget-conscious consumers shopping for the best deal should buy a phone from a carrier and then test it, Kagan suggested.
"You can return the phone after a few weeks if the signal is not good," he said. In the meantime, go everywhere you would use the phone and then try it out."
Advertising Sleight of Hand
Consumers have been trained to trust Consumer Reports, though -- especially when the advertising in a particular industry is especially confusing, as it is with telecom providers.
"Every carrier on a nationwide basis says they have the best connectivity," Kagan noted.
The metrics and claims can be so distinctive and so specific that what they are saying is the truth -- but in the end, it doesn't help consumers make a choice.
"Verizon says it has the most 4G LTE cities -- and they do," Kagan said. "AT&T says they have more 4G cities than anyone--and they do."
"Consumer Reports' ratings are very important from a PR/advertising standpoint," David Johnson, principal with Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times. "They are considered reliable -- a source to go to if you are really confused."
A Confusing Space
Many consumers, especially older ones or those not particularly in tune with tech developments, find the mobile space very confusing, Johnson said.
"It is not just the carrier claims -- it is also the devices that are making claims. And consumers find it very hard to parse what these claims mean," he explained. "So when you see the Consumer Reports logo, it adds third-party credibility."
For the same reason, a thumbs-up from Consumer Reports is welcome by carriers and device makers, added Johnson. "The market has gotten so competitive and crowded that any advantage in standing out from the clutter is welcome."