Finding a wireless carrier that fits your needs is an important venture - especially for smartphone users.
Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint combined have over 60 percent market share of cellular providers, and the needs of nearly anyone can be met within the framework of one of these choices. When considering a smartphone, choosing the wrong plan, carrier, or features can leave users stuck with hidden fees or unnecessary monthly premiums. Customer service is also a key consideration when selecting service.
Here is an in-depth look at exactly what each provider has to offer and how to best go about choosing one that meets your needs and budget.
Though the primary advantage of owning a smartphone is to take advantage of mobile connectivity, no phone is complete without a good voice plan. Entry level nationwide (U.S.) plans for all three providers start at $39.99 per month for 450 minutes of talk time, though Sprint has a basic option for 200 minutes at $29.99 (AT&T offers a 200 min. / $29.99 per month plan for customers age 65 and older).
Unlimited plans are $69.99 per month on Verizon and AT&T. Sprint bundles its unlimited voice plan with an Unlimited Everything plan to include data and messaging, which will be discussed in detail in subsequent sections, for $99.99 per month.
The real fun of using a smartphone lies in the ease of accessing email, browsing the web, connecting on social media, and streaming media. Sprint provides excellent value with its choices in plans as it does not limit the amount of data usage, choosing instead to have its customers couple it with the proper bundle as an unlimited feature. Starting at $69.99 per month, Sprint customers can use 450 minutes of talk time and unlimited data.
AT&T offers its smartphone customers 300MB of data for $20 per month and goes up to 5GB for $50. Verizon is comparable, starting with 2GB for $30 per month but allows for up to 10GB per month for $80.
For users who don't plan on using streaming sites such as YouTube or Netflix, the basic plans may suffice. But for most users, a plan with at least 2GB is needed. Each service has tools to monitor your usage and adjust the plans accordingly on the fly - a must when looking to get the most value out of your smartphone's data plan.
To have a smartphone without messaging capability would be like having a television without volume. What I'm getting at is that these are devices meant to make messaging easy and fun. The right plan is absolutely necessary to take advantage of this fact.
AT&T and Verizon both offer unlimited text messaging for smartphones for an extra monthly charge of $20, and Sprint bundles its messaging plans with its Everything Messaging plan, which includes 450 minutes of talk time and unlimited text messages. This plan starts at $49.99 per month.
None of the above features will have any substance if the network your smartphone uses is down or unavailable. But which is the best? It really depends on which area of the United States you live in, but a great resource is this universal coverage map .
Within reason, major metropolitan areas across the country will give users no issues with smartphones on either Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint. Network traffic is also something to consider - AT&T has the most market share and is a high-volume network. Verizon is similarly busy while Sprint is the least used among the three.
Product Selection / Availability
The iPhone 4S, arguably the most popular smartphone on the market, is available via AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon and will drive many users into the smartphone market on its own merit. However, each has something unique to offer when it comes to overall selection - and many users are becoming increasingly willing to stray from Apple's stranglehold on the industry.
Samsung's Galazy S II is available on both Sprint and AT&T and is widely thought of as one of the top products on the market as of January 2012. The DROID RAZR 4G, another hot item, is available through Verizon.
Clearly, AT&T and Verizon are two juggernauts among wireless providers. Sprint, however, is working hard to assert itself as more than a role player in the smartphone game. This is apparent in its effort to provide similar services to AT&T and Verizon at a lower cost. Conveniently, most of Sprint's services are bundled to make choosing the right fit much easier for the consumer.
Verizon's marketing has driven the consumer to choose its service based on the reliability of its network to justify its cost ("Can you hear me now?"). AT&T seems more driven to provide its patrons with the best overall experience. In my opinion, any one of these providers can fit one's lifestyle by considering the steps above.
How to Buy
Making a decision on a provider can be made much easier by finding a comprehensive, one-stop-shop for all of the three providers mentioned. RadioShack provides potential customers with just that and is a great way to compare features and devices side by side. With stores nationwide, it is also possible to walk in see first-hand what each service provider has to offer in your area.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Technology and an avid smartphone user.
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