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The best and worst phone carriers of 2020

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. 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.

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.

MORE: Where T-Mobiles Cellphone Plans Rank

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.

MORE: Customer Service Report: How T-Mobile Performed

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, Galaxy Note 10, OnePlus 7T, 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; more elaborate giveaways have featured valuable prizes like free access to MLB.TV Premium, though you have to sign up for that latter perk within the first week of the baseball season.

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.

  • 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