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The best and worst phone carriers of 2020

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, 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 second half of 2019 gives the top spot to Verizon once again — the 13th consecutive test period where that's happened. Big Red doesn't fare as well in OpenSignal's report for the second half of the year, where it trailed AT&T for download speed and T-Mobile for upload speed; Verizon did top three other categories, including 4G availability. 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 31 cities by the end of 2019. April 2019 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 1GB 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 16GB prepaid plan, which costs $45 a month after you enroll in autopay. (That's double the usual amount, which Verizon had touted as a limited time deal, but the 16GB has been in place for a few months now.)

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 Google's Pixel phones, though as of the Pixel 4, all carriers now sell that device. Verizon has remained 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 (it's now available through other carriers) as well as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G.

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 S20, Motorola Razr, LG V50 ThinQ, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, Moto Z4, Google Pixel 4 and 4 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 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.

  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2873661/wireless-carrier-2015.html
    Reply
  • tyronesuerpype
    I have had all of your top rated phone carriers and most may be fine if you stay in your "home" area. If you plan on traveling in the U.S., the only carrier I and my friends have had that works the best is Verizon. I had T mobile that worked great as long as I stayed home, but traveling it sucked. All the other features of these carriers do not matter if you have no cell or data service. I hated going back to Verizon, but now they have prepaid plans that are very competitive.
    Reply
  • bounds
    Really stay away from AT&T att.com. We were long time (10 year) customers who in the end their customer service lied to us and then the company did not stand behind what their reps said they would do. In the end try someone else.
    Reply
  • Rob1C
    I disagree with the way Points are divided.

    Performance taking up 40 points is too much and it's based only on Data Speed. It's essential that you never get dropped and important that you can walk or drive around without ever being in a dead spot.

    Plans is 'OK' allocated 25 points, I guess. It should be more about what would be the so-called 'Perfect Plan' that various Groups might want and how far does what is offered stray from that.

    Presumably there are 3 or 4 Groups with 3 or 4 Add-on Extras. The 'Plan Choices' being "Free and Cheap" where the reasonable number of free phones are offered with a low cost Plan. Next up is pay something towards the phone and towards the monthly rate, receiving a 'decent' phone (last year's higher end or this year's upper-mid) with some Data. Third pay a couple of hundred towards the phone and an extra $10 month to get a fair bit of Data (but not crazy, that's what the Add-ons are for). Forth Tier would be no holds barred 2-5 hundred towards the phone and 15 or 20 extra a month for lots of Data. The Add-ons could be 'Phone Upgrade' (where the cheaper Plan can get a better phone), 'Data Upgrade' (where you can bump up your Data, maybe increase Upload Speed if you upload more than the average person), and a 'Jetsetter Upgrade' for double price where you're uncapped for Roaming and Data - OR whatever you think would be a bunch of desirable options.

    The question then would be how does each Carrier's Plans differ from what it is assumed that people would want.

    Where I am we have 3 or 4 Tiers of Carriers. Number one is the richest some of whom put down Landlines back in the day, or Cablevision (either way they have the Wire or Fiber going to the Towers). Number two is owned by #1 but charges half as much, so you might as well sign with #2; they have a few fewer phones on offer or are second to get a particular phone but you can bring your own. Third Tier are the ones who discussed with the Regulators the benefits of competition and the detriment of the former monopoly. Third Tier gets to use 1st Tier's Towers for a reasonable Fee (yet charge less than half as much monthly). The 4th Tier being 'Johnny come lately' who simply showed up last with a promise of a Bankroll and an acceptable Business Plan, they're all over the map for Service and Plans ranging from copying the Big Guys to selling 'Monthly Cards' from Gas Stations and Convenience Stores (still around 50-60% of Tier 1 rates).

    If you can divide all that into 25 points ... good going !

    For the other sectors the Customer Service HAS to be good enough, I was with one of the biggest Tier 1s, damn you if you wanted something - 20 minutes of Elevator Music interspersed with telling you what spot in line you were and an estimated wait time. Once I waited 40 minutes, when they asked how they could help I explained that I had waited over a half hour and asked that they hire more people politely mentioning that if other callers were grumpy that would be the reason why - they replied that they had just hired over 500 people to which I replied that it must be insufficient as the wait was unrealistic but they didn't seem to get my point.

    Speakerphone was your only friend, it kept you from losing the circulation in your arm (speaking of which).

    If they're Tier 1 and charge the max for everything they had best not be ripping you anywhere be it a limited selection of phones, the extortion pricing for years or extended waits for lousy service - all that should lump into Service and drop the score.

    Lastly (because I'll type no more and the reader is likely nodding off) the Phone and Extras should score more.

    The selection of phones should be decent from bleeding edge to refurbished for free.

    Bring your own phone and get a discount is an important feature - some dogs only sell you a phone with a Plan and every couple of years it's a new Plan at an increased cost.

    As for Extras what are those, Tech Support comes from the Internet and it's not like I need phone lessons or an oil change - if they'd take 4 year old phones for a $100 tradein that would be something but they don't ...

    Want me to Manage your Cellular Provider? tell them they need Rob not you need to be robbed.
    Reply
  • morty8908
    TL;DR-tests were a joke and not objective, Look at Ooklas site to see who has the has the fastest service

    Verizon Has consistently lost in the data speed category (according to Okla, the site you claim to have used.) you also offer no information about the devices or settings you used. if you are using 2 of the same phones with the exact same settings,battery life, and even cell phones cases, then maybe this could be called a fair trial. but you went to only six cities, why not just look on Ookla's actual site for who has the fastest? T-mobile every time. I understand Verizon has to pay saps like you to say they are the best. The only way you could get anyone to maybe believe this is the fact that you only let them win by 1 point. Any more and you would have been laughed at (more so than right now anyway.)

    Also, as someone who as used both services, T-mobile has fantastic customer service. Every provider has Philippines call centers, so depending on when you are calling in (maybe one provider has a promotion going on and they are busier than usual so you get routed more often to those crap centers in the Philippines) and judging performance of customer service, you need to remove the calls from the Philippines and instead only rate those calls from the corporate customer service, not third party overflow.
    Reply
  • sakman74
    For the past 6 months, one of our verizon wireless lines has been charged international outgoing calls.
    I have explained to verizon multiple times, that the line is using a calling card based in the US (a US number) and that the call log of the device (which is never touched) does not show these outgoing direct international calls.

    in the past there used to be no way for someone to make a direct international call from a verizon wireless phone, at least this was not possible on our lines. it seems in recent times that has changed and the representative said there is no way to turn that 'feature' off.

    we are basically being told the verizon bill log never lies. we have - to date - been charged $ 300 for such calls which were not made directly from the phone to an international number.

    before you decide who to choose simply based on who comes out number 1, look at this example of what the carrier is doing to it's customers - before you choose verizon wireless.
    Reply
  • jerbigge
    I have Tracfone. I'm a long term member and quite satisfied with Tracfone. However if you want to make a lot of calls, text a lot, or download data,
    Tracfone isn't for you. It is best for the individual who only carries a cell phone for occasional use, accidents, etc. I'm quite happy with my iPhone SE
    I purchased from Tracfone for a very good price. However dealing with Apple makes you feel like you are dealing with a government agency where
    everything is done the way "they" decide. Most businesses that I deal with online put some sort of "cookie" on your computer so after this is done,
    you just "sign in" with your user name and password already stored. My user name and password I use on Amazon dates back to the start of this
    century. I've never had a bit of trouble with them. Apple? Like signing in to the CIA... The people who work the customer service lines do their
    best, but the entire experience dealing with the company is about like dealing with some government agency that doesn't give a damn about
    customer satisfaction. They do make a very good product, but I have no intention of buying say a book or music or anything else from Apple.
    Reply
  • bulkbuy
    I highly recommend adding a measure to the analysis for coverage in rural areas. Educators, Consumers, & Businesses located in rural areas have been widely shorted by wireless providers in rural areas. Its 2017 and time 4G wireless data and voice truly be a reliable nationwide benchmark. Education systems nationwide including ones in rural areas count on the fact, children will have access to the latest technologies available today. But the truth is, some simply do not due to the FCC preventing actions to require carriers to provide complete coverage for areas they market in.
    Reply
  • the2ndflood
    Verizon is by far the best carrier, especially here in Tennessee. Everyone that I know who lives in a remote area, is only able to use Verizon. I am surprised though, that Straight Talk has such slow data speeds, even when on Verizon's network. I have been reading that Verizon has lifted its policies on limited data speeds on for MVNO's using their carrier. But definitely, by far, MVNO's have the worst possible customer care! Holy **** is it bad! You have to tap through tons of menu options and if you do manage to get a hold of someone, they either will not help or just hang up on you! Verizon also wins in customer care as well. Each reply will even give you their work email address, so you can contact them when you need more help.
    Reply
  • 89startup
    thanks for the info! I use Verizon and I'm completely satisfied with its work
    Reply