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. While it's finished behind T-Mobile in previous testing performed by OpenSignal, that company's latest report had Verizon surging back, tying T-Mobile in download speed and winning the 4G availability, upload speed and video experience categories. Verizon continues to dominate RootMetrics' rankings, finish first in that company's report for the second half of 2018. Ookla says Verizon's speed score ranking was just behind T-Mobile's nationwide, but Verizon finished first in more cities.

Verizon has launched its 5G network in four cities, with two dozen more cities in line for the faster network next. (Verizon has said that 30 cities will have 5G 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.

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 three of them. Verizon's best unlimited option, the $85-a-month Beyond Unlimited plan, lets you stream at HD resolution (though only 720p) and adds 15GB of LTE hotspot data. It costs the same as a single line T-Mobile plan with HD streaming (though T-Mobile customers with multiple lines pay less for HD streaming). Discounts for adding extra lines aren't very generous, though, and this unlimited plan costs a family of four $200 a month, though Verizon now lets you mix and match its different unlimited options. That means you can have one Beyond Unlimited line while opting for a cheaper option on the remaining lines in your plan.

That cheaper option would be the more basic Go Unlimited plan costs individuals $75 a month; families of four will pay $160. Your video streams will be limited to 480p resolution and your hotspot speeds will be severely capped. But the biggest knock is that Verizon reserves the right to throttle your data speed if its network is congested.

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.

The third plan is the Above Unlimited plan. At $95 a month, its only real appeal is for people who use a lot of data (Verizon will only throttle you after you use 75GB of data on Above Unlimited versus 22GB on its other plans) or who travel internationally. Otherwise, this is a very expensive option when cheaper choices are available.

Verizon plansView Deal

As it launches its 5G network this spring, Verizon plans to charge $10 a month for unlimited 5G data. You'd tack that amount onto your existing Verizon unlimited plan, though for the Galaxy S10 5G, that option will be restricted to Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. (Verizon is waiving the $10 fee for a limited time.)

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.

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 9, 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.