T-Mobile - The #2 Phone Carrier
Editors' Note: We've published the results of our latest network testing. Current rankings reflect last year's results, but we plan to update scores along with new customer service rankings for wireless carriers shortly. In addition, T-Mobile has announced plans to merge with Sprint, though that deal still requires regulatory approval. Should the merger move ahead, look for us to update our evaluation of the combined carrier, but until then, you can look at our guide to the T-Mobile-Sprint merger to see how it might impact the wireless market.
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 2018, 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 has rated T-Mobile's network very highly, but in the third-party testing firm's latest report, Verizon has caught up with T-Mobile. While Verizon won more categories in this January 2019 report, OpenSignal said the battle between the two carriers is far from over. T-Mobile had the highest scores in Ookla's latest rankings. However, the Uncarrier finished third in RootMetrics' report for the second half of 2018, though T-Mobile's ranking in network reliability improved.
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.
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.
Of course, T-Mobile has taken one cue from its rivals, by splitting its unlimited plan into two tiers. It just 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 T-Mobile One. The latter plan 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 One costs $160 for four lines of data, though occasional promos see T-Mobile waiving the cost on an extra line.
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). Of course, T-Mobile's prepaid plans don't include taxes and fees like those from its Metro subsidiary do.
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.
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 new 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 T-Mobile is the first US carrier to sell one of OnePlus' phones (the OnePlus 6T). T-Mobile does offer a decent selection of phones for less than $300. That includes budget devices like Moto's E5 Play and Plus as well as a pair of T-Mobile branded devices, the Revvl and Revvl Plus.
Featured T-Mobile Phones: Galaxy S9, iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone XS Max, Galaxy Note 9, OnePlus 6T
T-Mobile really distinguishes itself from the carrier crowd with special features.
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.
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 One Plus International plan for an extra $25 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. That's $15 extra for individual plans (a hike from before) and $10 extra per line for families with T-Mobile One.
Since we last updated our rankings in May 2017, 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. And in September, T-Mobile started paying your $9.99 monthly Netflix subscription if you have two or more lines with its T-Mobile One plan. That offer isn't available to anyone with the T-Mobile One Unlimited 55+ Plan for seniors, but anyone 55 years or older can get two lines of unlimited data for $70 a month. 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.