Verizon - The #1 Phone Carrier
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 last year's 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 nine different carriers, Verizon recorded the fastest national download average download speed, at 36 Mbps. It claimed the top performance in two cities outright (New York and Chicago) and never finished outside the top four in any city we tested. Most impressively, it had the best app download times in every city where we tested, averaging just over a minute nationally to download Pokemon Go.
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 OpenSignal says Verizon's speeds have picked up again after a dip in early 2017 following the introduction of unlimited data plans, T-Mobile still finishes atop OpenSignal's network performance rankings. RootMetrics is more bullish on Big Red, with Verizon finishing first for the ninth consecutive testing period.
Plans (22/25 points)
Feeling pressure from its rivals, Verizon finally reversed course to offer an unlimited data plan; unfortunately, a tweak to Verizon's unlimited offerings makes them less appealing than before, especially for families. Verizon's best unlimited option, the $85-a-month Beyond Unlimited plan, lets you stream at HD resolution (though only 780p) and adds 15GB of LTE hotspot data. It costs only $5 a month more than T-Mobile's plan with HD streaming. Discounts for adding extra lines aren't very generous, though, and this unlimited plan costs a family of four $200 a month.
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. Go Unlimited users get a perk previously available to Beyond Unlimited subscribers: starting January 25, they can use their talk, text and data while traveling in Mexico and Canada. They can also make unlimited calls to those two countries from the U.S.
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.
For prepaid customers, 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 $75 a month and featuring 3G speeds on hotspot daata). You can add extra prepaid lines at a discounted rate, with the discount increasing based on the size of your plan. Verizon's tiered data plans let prepaid customers roll over unused data, too, though your data speed could be throttled if Verizon's network gets congested.
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 is the only carrier to offer the Google Pixel (though you can get that phone unlocked directly from Google) and the modular Moto Z Droid. 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.
Later this spring, Verizon will stop selling phones unlocked out of the box, a move it says will foil thieves. But it takes away an edge Verizon had over rival carriers that make you wait before they'll unlock your phone; it also potentially inconveniences travelers who like to swap in local SIM cards when they head overseas.
Featured Verizon Phones: Galaxy S9, iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus, Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, Moto Z2 Force, Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL
Special Features (3/5 points)
Verizon can't quite match the 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.)
Verizon's new Verizon Up program lets you earn a credit for every $300 you spend on products and services with the carrier, and that includes your monthly bill. Each credit earns you a reward such as discounts and giveaways. Unfortunately, to participate, you need to enroll in in Verizon Selects, which tracks personal data such as web and app usage.
Verizon's apps are a mixed bag. There are duplicative offerings like Family Locator ($9.99 per month to track device location, which other services will provide for less or even free, if you've got an iPhone) or 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 going away. It used to be the exclusive carrier for streaming in-market NFL games, but starting with this year's NFL playoffs, 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 Go90, Yahoo and AOL.