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The Best Wireless Service and Smartphone

By Jeff Kagan
Jun 8, 2017 11:23 AM PT
wireless-industry

During a recent grocery checkout conversation, it came up that I was a wireless analyst, and the cashier asked me which was the best wireless service and best smartphone. This is a question I get frequently, and though it seems straightforward, it's difficult to answer.

As I told the cashier, it depends.

"On what?" she asked.

That's when I realized that the U.S. wireless industry's multimillion-dollar advertising, public relations and marketing campaigns simply have been confusing buyers. Carriers must advertise so they don't get lost in all the noise of competitors, but none of their campaigns answer the big question: "Which carrier is best for me?"

All buyers want to know is which service and which device is best for them. The marketing maneuvers of all of the service providers and handset makers keep the industry noise at a very high level, but that ruckus seems to keep everyone confused.

'Best' Depends on You

The truth is, there is no one definitive answer for everyone. In some markets, one carrier has better rankings. However, within each market, there are many different areas of strength and weakness, depending on the wireless signal. What that means is that even if one carrier is ranked best for a particular market, you may spend time in a network weak spot, and a competitor actually may be better for you.

To make a wise decision, you really should not limit your attention to carrier strength rankings. That's just one piece of the puzzle. The rankings are great for the carriers themselves, to make sure they keep up to speed with competitors. However, it's not always a great way to pick a network or a cellphone.

In fact, your satisfaction really will depend on the places you spend time and the way you use your phone. Each handset communicates with two parts of the wireless network: voice and data. On the data side, even if you have a strong connection, performance depends on connection speed. Carriers often provide different speeds at different sites as they continue to upgrade.

iPhone/iOS vs. Galaxy/Android

When it comes to the smartphone, which is better, Apple's iPhone, which runs Apple's iOS, or Samsung's Galaxy, which uses Google's Android? Or something else? The fact is, there are many other manufacturers that also use the Android operating system.

The best smartphone is really a matter of personal taste. If you don't want to tinker and just want a smartphone that always works, the iPhone may be a perfect fit. If you like to play with your device, a smartphone running Android may be best for you.

iOS and Android are two completely different operating systems, but they both do the same thing in different ways. The iPhone is great for those who love it, but terrible for those who love to tinker. These folks generally prefer a phone running Google's Android, like the Samsung Galaxy.

These options are not better or worse -- they're just different. It all depends on you.

AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile

There is no definitive answer that I could have given to the supermarket cashier who asked which service and phone were best. It all depends.

My best advice is to take time to figure out which carrier and handset works best where you spend the most time. You will find some smartphones get strong signals and others get weak signals in different areas -- and they are not the same everywhere.

For example, while one wireless network may be best where you spend most of your time, there may be pockets where another network has a stronger signal for voice or data. Remember, it's not only the signal strength, it's also the speed of the wireless data connection that counts.

You may have a full-strength signal with a slower connection. So, no single carrier is best. These differences occur across networks and affect many customers. All of the carriers upgrade and tweak their signal strength and speed on a regular basis.

The only thing I can guarantee is that you never will find a perfect smartphone or network. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. So, your job is to find the best for you. It's really just that simple. It may be different from what your spouse, kids or friends prefer -- but that's OK. Find the best carrier and smartphone for you.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.


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