The votes are in: Which mobile data provider is best?
The rankings: Best and worst mobile data providers
Which providers are ranked best and which the worst among our survey takers? We crunched the numbers and came up with weighted averages on a scale of 1 to 5. (See details about how we did it.)
Verizon was the solid favorite -- with ratings at the top or near the top in every one of the eight individual categories, it came in first with a total weighted rating of 3.76 out of 5. At 3.71 overall, AT&T was a respectable number two, just ahead of T-Mobile with a 3.66. Sprint, meanwhile, was the clear loser at 3.42.
Verizon did particularly well in the categories grading the network's coverage and performance, receiving the highest ratings, mostly 3.8 and one 3.9, for download speed, upload speed, reliability of connection and availability of connection. AT&T came in second, with ratings of 3.6 or 3.7 for all those categories, and T-Mobile was third with ratings ranging from 3.3 to 3.8. Sprint was by far the worst performer, with the lowest rankings in every one of those categories, either a 3.1 or 3.2 for each.
As for the performance relative to cost rating -- in other words, bang for the buck -- T-Mobile's flexible pricing strategies including its no-contract, no-phone-subsidy plans seem to be paying big dividends. It didn't merely win this category, but blew away the competition with a 3.7 rating, compared to 3.3 for both AT&T and Verizon, and 3.2 for Sprint.
When it comes to what you might consider the "softer" categories of technical support, customer service/billing and phone selection, there was no great difference among the service providers, although AT&T was notable for a 4.3 rating for phone selection -- the single highest rating for any category in the entire survey -- with Sprint just behind it at 4.2. Verizon came in at a 4, and T-Mobile with a 3.9.
For customer support/billing, the providers were all bunched at 3.7, except for T-Mobile, which inched ahead with a 3.8. T-Mobile was also favored for technical support with a 3.8, followed by Verizon and Sprint with 3.7 and AT&T with 3.6.
Following are capsule descriptions for each provider.
Note: If you'd like to see the raw figures we used to calculate these final numbers, see our Final Results chart (download PDF).
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