Consumer Reports Annual Cell Phone Service Provider Ratings

By Joe Rizzo November 21, 2013

We are all familiar with Consumer Reports. It is the world’s largest independent product testing organization. It has more than 50 labs and survey research centers. As it does every year, Consumer Reports surveys how mobile service providers are doing.

It is now time for that report and it looks like while a lot has stayed the same, the changes are major. Last year the survey had Verizon listed in the number one spot. It was followed close behind by Sprint. The remaining two spots for the Tier 1 carriers went to T-Mobile in third and AT&T at the bottom.

What has remained the same this year is that Verizon still holds the number one spot as the top major carrier. It received high marks for data service and some aspects of customer support. What has changed dramatically is the fact that Sprint went from a close second to last place.

According to Consumer Reports’ 58,399 survey respondents, Sprint is now the lowest rated carrier. Sprint received overall bleak marks. Value, voice, text and 4G reliability were all rated at the bottom. The ripple effect of this is that for the first time in years AT&T is no longer sitting in the cellar.

AT&T may no longer be in the cellar, it only moved up one notch to third place. Although AT&T only received decent marks, the one area that it did excel in was for reliability of its 4G service. In fact, according to the report, it was the lone carrier to receive top marks for 4G service reliability.

Consumer Cellular, which is a post-paid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) whose services are aimed towards providing users with simple, inexpensive and no-contract cell phone plans, was actually the overall leader in the Consumer Reports cell service satisfaction survey.

It had all-star scores right across the board. Although it uses the same network of lower-ranked AT&T, all of its scores were a lot higher. Previous Consumer Reports surveys have found that no-contract and prepaid service from smaller companies such as Consumer Cellular and TracFone rate far better than the major standard providers in customer satisfaction.

Those carriers offer high-quality phones, relatively reliable service, but what really sets them apart is the fact that they offer simpler and more consumer-friendly plans. When you think about it, when the company only offers simple plans to serve those with basic wireless needs, there is not too much to complain about.

Glenn Derene, who is electronics content development team leader for Consumer Reports, said “Our latest cell service satisfaction survey revealed a somewhat precipitous decline by Sprint that shuffled the rankings of the major standard service providers. And smaller, no-frills, no-contract and prepaid service providers continue to do a better job of satisfying customers, and provide an increasingly viable alternative to some of the expensive, long-term contracts that many consumers find themselves locked into.”

Here is an interesting fact from the survey, when it comes to data plans that have set limits on usage, it turns out that 38 percent only used half or sometimes even less than their month allotment. This raises the issue of customers overpaying for services that they do not necessarily need from their wireless service.

Consumer Reports has come up with seven recommendations for consumers that can help to cut their phone costs and possible save hundreds of dollars. Here are three of the those recommendations;

Wait to buy that hot phone. Resist buying the latest must-have phone until a newer model comes out and you may be able to get it at a much lower price. For example, if you bought the Samsung Galaxy S III from Sprint when it first came out, it would have set you back more than $200 up front. When the S 4 arrived, the S III price dropped to $100, and now it’s $0 with most service contracts.

Consider a prepaid service. Pay-as-you-go plans used to come with limited service and bare-bones phones. Not anymore. Prepaid providers now have more smart phones, and some offer fast 4G connections. If you’re not a marathon talker, texter, or Web surfer, you’ll usually come out ahead by paying only for what you use.

Think twice about add-ons. Like other service providers, cellular carriers try to lard on extras, including navigation, insurance and GPS tracking of your children. Assess those offers carefully. You might be better off paying $1 per day for maps and directions only when you need them, rather than paying a $5 navigation fee every month.

If you would like to look over the entire Consumer Reports cell service Ratings and find out what the remaining four recommendations are, you can do so at



Edited by Cassandra Tucker





TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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