T-Mobile - The #2 Phone Carrier
Editors' Note: We've published the results of our latest network testing. Current rankings reflect previous results, but we plan to update scores along with new customer service rankings for wireless carriers shortly. In addition, the T-Mobile-Sprint merger just closed, so we anticipate changes to T-Mobile's service, though plans remain unchanged for now.
Verizon may have passed T-Mobile to become our top wireless carrier, but that's not for lack of effort on the Uncarrier's part. A lot of other carriers seem to follow T-Mobile's lead: Just look at how many now offer unlimited-data plans after T-Mobile announced it would offer only unlimited data.
T-Mobile continues to offer a fast-performing network in most major cities, and its customer-focused reputation extends to the way the carrier handles tech support. In addition, T-Mobile continues to set the standard for how a wireless carrier should reward its customers.
Carrier Performance (37/40 points)
T-Mobile finished behind Verizon when we tested LTE speeds in six cities in 2017. When we expanded testing to eight cities in our latest round of testing, T-Mobile's average download speed improved, but not enough to catch Verizon. Even worse for the Uncarrier, AT&T edged it in our updated network rankings. T-Mobile continues to perform well, particularly in Dallas where it beat all other carriers and in Houston, Seattle and Los Angeles where it was runner-up. We'll update our scores soon to reflect these new results.
OpenSignal continues to rate T-Mobile's network very highly, giving the Uncarrier the Edge in upload speeds in its latest report; AT&T pulled ahead for download speeds. Ookla gave T-Mobile the second-best speed score in its July 2019 report, placing the carrier second to AT&T. T-Mobile doesn't fare as well in the new RootMetrics report, where it finished third in speeds behind AT&T and Verizon.
T-Mobile was one of the last carriers to officially launch its 5G network, but it's turned on high-speed service in a half-dozen cities. We were impressed by the speeds we saw in New York. T-Mobile's nationwide 5G network is now available, covering 5,000 cities and helping the carrier enjoy the farthest reaching 5G network in a recent OpenSignal report. Be aware that this version of 5G is built on low-band spectrum, so speeds are only slightly faster than LTE, at least in our initial testing with T-Mobile. Thanks to its merger with Sprint, though, T-Mobile is building out its 5G coverage — both New York and Philadelphia now feature a full range of 5G coverage from T-Mobile after Sprint's spectrum was incorporated into the setup in those cities.
Plans (23/25 points)
T-Mobile likes to crow that other carriers follow its lead, and in the case of unlimited data plans, the company definitely has a point. T-Mobile unveiled its T-Mobile One plan in 2016 and soon made this the only option available to new customers; other carriers, even Verizon, soon followed suit with unlimited plans of their own.
T-Mobile plansView Deal
Of course, T-Mobile has taken one cue from its rivals, by splitting its unlimited plan into two tiers. It introduced T-Mobile Essentials, a cheaper version of its unlimited plan at $60 a month that removes some of the perks you get with the $70 plan, which is now called T-Mobile Magenta. T-Mobile's Magenta offering absorbs all your taxes and fees, and Essentials customers don't get to use their data when traveling in 210 countries as T-Mobile One subscribers can. Still, a family of four would only pay $120 for T-Mobile Essentials, the cheapest unlimited option among the Big Four carriers. T-Mobile Magenta costs $160 for four lines of data, though occasional promos see T-Mobile waiving the cost on an extra line.
If there's a downside to T-Mobile's switch to unlimited data-only, it's that low-data users may feel shut out by the carrier. T-Mobile does have a kickback program that gives you a $10 credit on your bill if you use less than 2GB during a month; that's extremely attractive to those on family plans in which one user may not consume as much data as the other people on the account. Otherwise, low-data users need to turn to one of T-Mobile's prepaid plans, which now match what you get from Metro by T-Mobile (either 10GB for $40 a month or unlimited data for $50 or $60, depending if you want LTE hotspot data included in your plan). Of course, T-Mobile's prepaid plans don't include taxes and fees like those from its Metro subsidiary do.
T-Mobile now offers a new prepaid plan following its Sprint merger called T-Mobile Connect, which offers 2GB of data for $15 a month. (Another tier gives you 5GB for $25.) Be aware that once you'v used up your allotted data under T-Mobile Connect plans, you're out until the next billing cycle.
Customer Service (18/20 points)
Our undercover testing suggests you can expect friendly conversations and helpful advice when you turn to T-Mobile for tech-support help. That's true if you approach the carrier through Twitter or Facebook, call up its tech-support line, or take advantage of the company's online-chat feature. We just wish that T-Mobile's tech support reps used more precise language, to avoid creating confusion when dispensing advice.
Our only other beef with T-Mobile's customer support? While the carrier's online documentation is solid, T-Mobile buries support links on its website. Other carriers make it easier to find what you're looking for.
Just be aware that our customer service testing was done before T-Mobile launched its Team of Experts program aimed at ensuring you'll talk to a real person when you call for help. We'll be evaluating that new service soon.
Phone Selection (7/10 points)
T-Mobile boasts the kind of selection you'd expect from major carriers: the latest flagships from Apple, LG, Samsung and others, along with previous generations of the iPhone and Galaxy. This carrier sells the smallest number of smartphone types among the Big Four carriers, by our count, and it can't claim some of the more marquee phones that its rivals sell exclusively, though that's beginning to change. T-Mobile is the first US carrier to sell one of OnePlus' phones (including the OnePlus 7T and the 5G-ready OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren), and it's added Google's phones to its offerings.
T-Mobile does offer a decent selection of phones for less than $300. That includes budget devices like Moto's E6 as well as a pair of T-Mobile branded devices. (The latest versions — the Revvlry and Revvlry+ — are now part of T-Mobile's selection.)
Featured T-Mobile Phones: Galaxy S20, LG V60 ThinQ 5G, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, iPhone SE, Galaxy Note 10, OnePlus 8, OnePlus 7T Pro 5G, Pixel 4 and 4 XL, Pixel 3a and 3a XL
Special Features (5/5 points)
Here's where T-Mobile really distinguishes itself from the carrier crowd. Every week, T-Mobile gives away freebies to customers through the T-Mobile Tuesdays app. Frequent prizes include discounts on Lyft rides and free Frostys from Wendy's. This May, T-Mobile customers will be able to get three months of the Tidal Premium streaming music service through the carrier's giveaway program.
T-Mobile remains a top choice if you do a lot of international travel. With a T-Mobile One plan, you now get unlimited data and texting in 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. (Note that T-Mobile Essentials customers only get unlimited texting when they travel.) T-Mobile One customers also can use 5GB of high-speed data when they travel in Mexico or Canada. You can opt for T-Mobile's Magenta Plus plan for an extra $10 to $15 a month to speed up your data overseas.
On flights equipped with Gogo internet service, T-Mobile One gives you an hour of free Wi-Fi plus unlimited texting. Unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo is available through the T-Mobile One Plus add-on that also adds HD video streaming.
Since we last updated our rankings, T-Mobile formally launched Digits, a new service in which its customers can use their T-Mobile phone number on multiple devices including older phones and PCs. T-Mobile also pays your monthly Netflix subscription if you have two or more lines with its Magenta plan, though after Netflix price hikes, T-Mobile's Magenta Plan only covers the cost of a basic Netflix subscription, which restricts you to streaming video in standard definition. (Magenta Plus subscribers with multiple lines get Netflix's standard subscription cost covered.)
Customers 55 years and older can turn to the Magenta Unlimited 55 Plan for seniors, which provides two lines of unlimited data for $70 a month; a second option — Essentials Unlimited 55 — lowers that cost to $55 a month, with fewer perks. Members of the military and their families now qualify for a discounted unlimited plan that costs $55 a month for the first line, with additional lines available at half off.
Of all the carriers, T-Mobile seems to be the most willing to branch into new areas. The carrier has launched a broadband-based TV service, T-Vision, in some markets, and its new T-Mobile Money program lets you create a checking account that earns you 4% interest on your balance if you're a T-Mobile customer.