AT&T Report Card

While T-Mobile and Verizon jostle for the top position in our cellphone carrier rankings, AT&T finishes just a step or two behind. While it couldn't best its two main rivals in either performance or plans — though it came close in both categories — AT&T did top our customer-service rankings and offers the best selection of phones. So there's still plenty to recommend this carrier as your wireless provider.

Carrier Performance (45/50 points)

AT&T turned in a solid performance in our tests of wireless networks around the country. The carrier recorded national averages of 20.8 Mbps down and 9.1 Mbps up, which put it in third place behind Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T offered the fastest average download speed in our San Francisco tests, while finishing in second place in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston; only in New York did AT&T finish outside of the top-three carriers.

While AT&T may have finished behind T-Mobile for average download speed, it did beat the Uncarrier in our app download test, with an average time of 1 minute 26 seconds to T-Mobile's 1:28.

MORE: See How AT&T’s 4G Performance Stacks Up

Plan Offerings (14/20 points)

AT&T has done away with the distinction between individual and family plans and simplified its access fee for devices to a single rate of $20 per device per month. That's at least made it easier to compare AT&T's plans to those of other carriers, though families will find the options a little wanting. AT&T's best family plan gives you a shared data pool of 10GB for $80 a month. Add in the access fees, and a family of four pays $160. For just $10 more, Verizon gives you a lot more share data, while T-Mobile offers unlimited data at that same $160 monthly price (though with limits on video streaming resolution).

The outlook has brightened for individuals now that AT&T no longer charges a higher access fee for low-data plans. In fact, we're particularly bullish on AT&T's 3GB plan, since it offers enough data for the typical smartphone owner for just $60 a month after you figure in access fees. True, T-Mobile charges $70 for unlimited data, though with that restriction on streaming video resolution. If you don't need unlimited data, AT&T's offering can save you $120 a year.

MORE: Compare AT&T’s Phone Plans to Other Carriers

AT&T joined T-Mobile and Sprint in offering unlimited data plans in January, but there’s a catch: You need to also subscribe to the telecom giant’s DirecTV or U-verse services. If you do, you can enjoy unlimited data for $100 a month, with additional lines costing $40. After discounts, a family of four could enjoy unlimited data for $180 a month. But given the TV service requirement, AT&T’s unlimited plan has decidedly limited appeal.

Since we first published this report, AT&T slimmed down its prepaid plans to a 3GB option for $45 a month and 6GB for $60. You can shave $5 off your monthly bill by opting for auto-pay. AT&T's $45 option matches a Sprint prepaid plan, though most discount carriers offer more data for less money.

Customer Service Rating (14/15 points)

Offering world-class customer service, AT&T is simply the best based on the results of our undercover support showdown. During our phone calls, we consistently received friendly, helpful, detailed and attentive assistance.

Digging into AT&T's website in search of answers to basic questions proved fruitful, and the convenient live chat feature similarly impressed us. The timely answers that came through social media were the cherry on top of an overall superlative tech support program.

MORE: Compare AT&T’s Customer Service to Other Carriers

Phone Selection (10/10 points)

When it comes to phone selection, the big carriers do all they can to give customers access to everything from the latest flagships to an assortment of budget phones. AT&T stands tall in this regard, offering every phone available on our smartphone checklist. That includes phones that are currently exclusive to the carrier, such as the Galaxy S6 active. AT&T also offers a number of pre-owned options and supports the widest range of unlocked phones, including the Onetouch Idol 3 and the OnePlus 2. If you don't like what you see, the carrier also lets you bring your own phone.

Special Features (2/5 points)

AT&T lets you buy your phone in monthly installments, with the ability to upgrade to a new phone after you made a set amount of payments. As of June 2016, AT&T trimmed down the number of installment plans from four to two. With AT&T's Next Every Year Plan, you pay for your phone over 24 months of financing, with the ability to upgrade to a new model after a year. AT&T Next is a 30-month financing plan that lets you upgrade phones after two years of payments.

AT&T allows unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico to subscribers with 15GB data plans or higher; other plans can add unlimited calling to Canada and Mexico, along with discounted calling rates to 225 other countries, for $5. Travel to Mexico with one of AT&T's Simple Choice plans, and you get unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of high-speed data.

AT&T has a number of me-too services that are better or cheaper through a third party. Its Family Map service helps you keep track of your kids' locations for $9.99 or higher per month, but other third-party services such as Life360 offer more for less.

AT&T Navigator costs $9.99 per month, though Google Maps offers the same features for free. AT&T Smart Limits lets you limit your child's phone use for $4.99 per month, but third-party parental control apps like Qustodio can do this for a one-time fee or free. Mobile TV costs $9.99 a month to stream some live channels including Fox News, ABC News and Bloomberg while playing on-demand episodes from NBC, Disney and others. AT&T Cloud gives you 5GB of free cloud storage, but other services like Skype or Google Drive give you 15GB for free.

Best and Worst Wireless Carriers

Create a new thread in the Cell Phone General Discussion forum about this subject
63 comments
    Your comment
  • sam81_
    Cricket has some pretty awesome internationl features like use plan in thr whole NA
    0
  • Steve_102
    Tmobile the best. I ALWAYS have constant problems with Tmobile, they have numerous times sold me on a plan by "mistake" to have to correct it later. Their sales people never have matching answers, no one knows how plans operate and more. T-Mobile sales and customer service sucks, but they appear nice.
    0
  • Walt_1
    I have Cricket. And it;s not really that hard to find out that the throttle data at 8MBs. That's plenty and I have ATT's coverage non roaming of course
    1
  • Chris_220
    I attempted to switch from Verizon to Tmobile due to their international rates. I am military and Tmobile offers great rates in Qatar. I was told that my Galaxy S6 would work by a Tmobile Rep, and ordered SIMs under the Bring your Own Device plan. I was informed that I could receive a full refund within 30 days by the rep on the phone if I changed my mind. I received the SIM cards, and learned that my Verizon variant S6 wouldn't support data services on the Tmobile network; from what I gather my location relied on a Band that they didn't provide? Regardless, I closed the account and asked for a refund on the SIM cards. I was initially told by a customer service rep that they would not refund the SIM cards. After reviewing the information I received when I initially began the process of switching and noting that it did say I had 30 days to get a full refund, I called back and was informed that I would receive a refund for the SIM cards (that was after being bounced around several times to different reps and eventually their orders department. I was informed not to worry about returning the SIM cards, because it wasn't economical for Tmobile to reuse them. I was told that I would receive a refund for the SIM card purchase. This has never happened. I have interacted with them over the phone and on chat numerous times, and been given the run around every time. I am disputing the charges with my credit card company based on the chat logs I have promising a refund, and I am also posting to this and other forums in the hopes that prospective customers will see it and stay away from Tmobile. My goal is to cost them at least as much in revenue from a potential customer as they have effectively stolen from me. So, if you're reading this, please take my advice and stay away from Tmobile. They ripped me off, and they might do it to you as well.
    0
  • th666
    Strange... AT&T has always beat T-Mobile in reception, until... THIS ARTICLE. Whazup wid dat? Somebody at T-Mobile got cozy widya?
    0
  • zeterian
    You need to update this article with Project Fi by Google. It's pretty good.
    0
  • zeterian
    Is there a reason you keep trying to pass off this old article as representative of what's out there now. Project Fi beats all your entries in every category, yet you still omit it. It's been available to everybody since March. This is OLD NEWS. Changing the date doesn't make it new.

    It connects to both T-Mobile and Sprint plus wi-fi, which ever has the strongest signal. Downloading data over a home or free wi-fi doesn't count against your monthly data usage. I can download TBs of data at $10/GB with rebates instead of rollovers. I got connected to a human tech support in less than a minute last night.

    Are you getting paid to ignore certain carriers of are you that unaware of what's out there? Either way the validity of any articles will be suspect with regard to current models used for testing.
    0
  • Claybuster
    T Mobile lies! If you Binge through another device like Apple TV it eats your data. Netflix and HULU can only be watched on the phone. I told the represenitive that I was using my Apple TV and was told it was ok, but I found out I did NOT get unlimited data as advertised. I returned my 2 day old IPhone 6se for a refund and now I am having trouble getting my money returned, seems like they cannot find the phone after they signed for the receipt of the phone. I went back to Verizon. Still waiting for my money!
    0
  • Jmmedc
    I have T-Mobile and yes, they offer good plans, hot spot use and great speed but only if you are outside. Once you inside your home or in a building all bets are off. Inside a building you are lucky if you get a bar at 4g unless you commit to a bulky signal booster. I believe that if T-Mobile really wants to be in the number 1 spot they need to install more towers to truly improve reception indoors where most of are most of the time due to employment commitments.
    1
  • Claybuster
    Anonymous said:
    I have T-Mobile and yes, they offer good plans, hot spot use and great speed but only if you are outside. Once you inside your home or in a building all bets are off. Inside a building you are lucky if you get a bar at 4g unless you commit to a bulky signal booster. I believe that if T-Mobile really wants to be in the number 1 spot they need to install more towers to truly improve reception indoors where most of are most of the time due to employment commitments.
    0
  • Claybuster
    They lie by omission also. The Binge is only good on the phone. If you use Apple TV or the like it uses your data fast! They do not refund money on a new phone in a timely manner. TMobile stinks. I went back to Verizon and will stay there!
    0
  • Jmmedc
    Is there a way t-mobile can read our comments?
    0
  • rgd1101
    sure, post on their facebook or twitter
    1
  • Claybuster
    Anonymous said:
    Tmobile the best. I ALWAYS have constant problems with Tmobile, they have numerous times sold me on a plan by "mistake" to have to correct it later. Their sales people never have matching answers, no one knows how plans operate and more. T-Mobile sales and customer service sucks, but they appear nice.
    0
  • Claybuster
    I agree on how bad TMobile is. I went with them for the data on Binge and found that Binge only works on the Phone! Hot spotting to as an Apple TV you use your data up fast and you go to 2g for streaming. I was told different when I did my research. After many hours of research I went back to Verizon. I do travel and Verizon cannot be beat.
    0
  • Diehardlinux
    The hi jacking with straight talk:
    This has to be the worst prepaid cellular provider out there. As for security, there is none.
    This is the most shocking thing that has ever happened to me. The person who had stolen my number, had put it in a cheap Huawei phone with no SIM card and tried to port the phone to Verizon. My SIM card was deactivated because the number had been put into that phone. After the number was stolen, it was changed through the automated system allegedly which out my knowledge.

    After two hours on the phone on 06/05/16, I was told by a supervisor most of this stuff. Mind you while I was trying to get my number back, the person was in my account. I had to call back the next day and speak to another supervisor to try to get my number back and to get my minutes back that I had paid for. A day and a half without a phone had got me into some serious thinking about security layers on some of these sites. This one pretty much did not have enough security. Especially if my passcode was changed on the website. The person who had done it knew my mothers maiden name.

    Last call to straight talk management, I followed up on a promise by straight talk manage Genesis to provide me a nano SIM card for my device because I had used the SIM card I had out of a bring your own phone kit I had bought through Walmart some time ago. Long story short after talking to the management about my whole experience, THEY WERE NOT WILLING TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THEIR PROMISE. I told the straight talk representative that this is the worst customer service experience I had ever received and would not be stay with straight talk.

    Final thoughts after this experience, I said either I get to port out to another carrier of my choosing with my number or I change my number. Either way I'm leaving straight talk. Peace to the burner phone site and there lack of security.
    0
  • Kathy_21
    My verizon phone died again from water damage and I got a coupon in the mail from MetroPCS, which sounded too good to be true, but I had to check it out. There was absolutely no one in the store when I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, which was a terrible first impression. The phone froze up on day 8, on a Sunday @ 6pm, and of course, they were closed. I took it back for an exchange the next day and the manager accused me of damaging the phone intentionally, told me he didn't like my attitude, and I should go back to verizon !!! So I did, and they verified that the phone was not damaged!
    0
  • treetops422
    I had to stand outside or by a door or window to use virgin mobile calling without missing what people say. I was with virgin for 3 years and 3 phones. Iv had metro for 2 weeks I can hear people anywhere in my apartment. I live in a major city phoenix az. Virgin mobile is the worst ever, their insurance premium is 100$ on a 150$ phone.
    0
  • rgd1101
    Anonymous said:
    I had to stand outside or by a door or window to use virgin mobile calling without missing what people say. I was with virgin for 3 years and 3 phones. Iv had metro for 2 weeks I can hear people anywhere in my apartment. I live in a major city phoenix az. Virgin mobile is the worst ever, their insurance premium is 100$ on a 150$ phone.


    VM use sprint. metro pcs use t-mobile.
    why would you get insurance on a $150 phone?
    What about google project fi? it use US Cellular, sprint and tmobile network. or wifi.
    0