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The Best and Worst Phone Carriers of 2019

Verizon - The #1 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 once we have new customer service rankings for wireless carriers.

Verizon had the fastest network in our carrier speed tests. It had the best customer service when we went undercover to grade how carriers handled tech support questions. Throw in an attractive mix of plans and phone selection that outshines what its rivals offer, and it's easy to see how Verizon landed on top of our rankings as the best U.S. phone carrier.

Verizon leapfrogs from second place over previous champion, T-Mobile, to claim the wireless carrier crown. And this really is an instance where Verizon put in a little extra effort to grab the top spot. Here's how Big Red won the day.

Carrier Performance (38/40 points)

When we went to six cities across the country to test LTE speeds for different carriers in 2017, Verizon recorded the fastest national download average download speed. We expanded that test to eight cities in our most recent testing, and Verizon tightened its grip on the best performing network crown, sweeping all three categories we test. Verizon was the top-performing network in five of the eight cities we tested this year, finishing as runner up in two other cities. We'll update our scores soon to reflect these new numbers, but Verizon continues to impress with its network performance.

Verizon still has a tiered data plan, and if you're an individual user who doesn't burn through data, it's a pretty compelling option.

Verizon also rates highly in performance by third-party testing companies, though in the latest reports, rival are catching up. RootMetrics report for the first half of 2019 gives the top spot to Verizon once again — the twelfth consecutive test period where that's happened. Big Red doesn't fare as well in OpenSignal's report for the first half of the year, where it finishes behind T-Mobile for download and upload speed, though Verizon did finish tops in 4G availability and video experience. Ookla praises Verizon for having the most consistent 4G network, but gives AT&T and T-Mobile faster speed scores. Verizon finished second to AT&T in Global Wireless Solutions' annual report.

Verizon has launched its 5G network in 10 cities, with plans to hit 30 cities by the end of 2019.) April test results in Chicago revealed a 5G network that's both fast and frustrating, though we saw better speeds when we returned a month later to test the Galaxy S10 5G. Our tests with the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G also showed fast speeds, though limited reach and inconsistent connectivity.

Plans (22/25 points)

Feeling pressure from its rivals, Verizon reversed course to offer an unlimited data plan in early 2017; in fact, it now offers four of them, with two costing exactly the same but offering different benefits.

Those two identically priced plans are Verizon's best options, though which one you prefer will depend on how you use your cellular data. Verizon's new Do More plan, which costs $80 a month for one line (and $180 for four) lets you use 50GB of LTE data before Verizon can throttle your speeds when its network gets congested. You also get 500GB of cloud storage, 15GB of LTE hotspot data and a six-month free trial of Apple Music. People that do a lot of streaming, though, may prefer Play More, as that $80 plan includes Apple Music for free and lets you stream HD video. (Do More limits you to 480p resolution.) The trade off is a lower data cap of 25GB before you might experience slower speeds.

If you're willing to run the risk of having Verizon slow down your unlimited data at any time, you can cut your bill to $70 a month ($140 for four lines) with the Start Unlimited plan. The most expensive option, Get More, costs $90 a month and raises the data cap to 75GB before throttling can commence; you also get free Apple Music, HD video streaming, 500GB of cloud storage and 30GB of LTE hotspot data.

For families, Verizon has a Just Kids plan that you can add provided at least one line on your plan includes unlimited data. Just Kids features 5GB of LTE data, with Safety Mode enabled so that you aren't charged if your child uses too much data. (Speeds are slowed for the rest of the billing period. Phones on a Just Kids plan have parented controls enabled, and you get unlimited talk and texts to 20 contacts.

Verizon plansView Deal

As it launches its 5G network, Verizon charges $10 a month for unlimited 5G data. You'd tack that amount onto your existing Verizon unlimited plan, though it's currently waiving that fee for every plan but Start Unlimited; that's a limited-time offer, though.

Unlike T-Mobile, which only offers unlimited data now, Verizon still has a tiered data plan, and if you're an individual user who doesn't burn through data, Verizon's 5GB-for-$55-a-month offering is pretty compelling. Verizon also lets you roll over unused data to the next month — another welcome change in policy — and if you enable Safety Mode, Verizon merely slows down your data speeds to 2G when you go over your allotment rather than charge you overage fees.

MORE: Verizon Phone Plan Buying Guide

For prepaid plans, Verizon also offers a wide range of options, starting at $30 a month for a slender 500MB data plan and going all the way up to unlimited data (now $65 a month with autopay discount). You can add extra prepaid lines at a discounted rate, with the discount increasing based on the size of your plan. Your best option is likely Verizon's 8GB prepaid plan, which costs $45 a month after you enroll in autopay. (Verizon is currently doubling that amount to 16GB for the same rate — a very good deal.)

Customer Service (19/20 points)

In our undercover testing, Verizon topped our customer service rankings by nailing every aspect of tech support. The carrier fielded questions posted to Twitter and Facebook with alacrity. The company's phone support reps were courteous and helpful — one even wound up saving our undercover tester money on her monthly bill. But it's Verizon's online support that really stands out, thanks to thorough documentation and helpful online tools like a device simulator to help you learn about how to use your smartphone.

Phone Selection (9/10 points)

Verizon's CDMA network is no longer the barrier it once was, especially with the carrier lining up so many noteworthy exclusives to offer its subscribers. Verizon was the only carrier to offer the Pixel 3 (though Sprint and T-Mobile now offer that phone, too) and it will remain the exclusive carrier for the Moto Z4. Verizon also supports a Moto Mod add-on that delivers 5G connectivity (at least where Verizon's 5G network is online). Verizon was the first carrier to offer Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G, though that 5G-ready phone is now available through other carriers.

Verizon also offers one of the widest selections of phones, and if there's a flagship device from a major phone maker, it's likely to be available through Verizon.

If you end up buying a phone from Verizon, make sure to activate it online, since the fee there is only $20; in-store activations now cost $40.

Featured Verizon Phones: Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, Moto Z4, Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL, Galaxy A50

Special Features (3/5 points)

Verizon took a page out of T-Mobile's book by adding discounts for current and former military members plus their families. If you're active-duty military, a reservist, Gold Star family or veteran, you can get a $15 discount on one line, with discounts for two lines ($35 off) and three or more lines ($40 off) also available. Similar to T-Mobile's Digits, Verizon's My Numbers service lets you add up to four numbers to your account, which can come in handy if you want to keep separate lines for business and personal calls. My Numbers costs $15 a month for each extra number.

Verizon can't quite match the other special features that T-Mobile provides to its subscribers — few carriers can — but it rewards customers in a few different ways. That unlimited data plan Verizon added this year includes calling from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada. Travel in those two countries, and you'll pay $5 extra per day to use your phone's existing data plan. (It's $10 a day if you travel to more than 100 other countries.)

MORE: Best International Phone Plans

Verizon just revamped its previously lackluster Verizon Up rewards program. Previously, you earned a credit for every $300 you spent on products and services with the carrier, but now you earn credits every time you pay your bill. Those credits can be redeemed for prizes and discounts.

Verizon's apps are a mixed bag. The carrier's Verizon Smart Family program adds parental control tools for managing screen time and blocking apps and websites for $5 a month; adding another $5 lets you add location tracking services. But that duplicates functionality available elsewhere, as does VZ Navigator, a $5-per-month assisted GPS service. Verizon Cloud's 5GB of free storage is OK, though not nearly as vast as the 15GB that Google Drive gives you.

One of Verizon's most notable perks is no more. It used to be the exclusive carrier for streaming in-market NFL games, but Verizon now makes games available to customers of other wireless carriers. It's part of Verizon's efforts to get more eyeballs on platforms including Yahoo and AOL. However, Verizon customers can take advantage of a new perk if they have an unlimited data plan: Verizon offers a free six-month subscription to the Apple Music streaming service to customers with Go Unlimited plans, while the $10-a-month service is now included for free with Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans.