Who is the Best iPhone Carrier?

So, after much anticipation, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) rolled out its iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. The tech giant's latest flagship smartphone is available on all four national carriers Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , Sprint (NYSE: S  ) and T-Mobile (NYSE: TMUS  ) , but which iPhone carrier is best?

Each carrier has its strength, weaknesses and something unique that differentiates it from the rest. Let's check out in detail the carrier that best suits your needs.

Picking the best iPhone carrier

The largest US telecom provider, Verizon offers the 16GB iPhone 5S for $199 with a two-year contract or monthly payments of $27.15 for a couple of years for the early upgrade program, Edge, which allows you to upgrade your phone every six months. Users can get unlimited talk time, texting and 4GB data plan for $110 a month, which is less attractive than a similar AT&T plan. For the same price, the second largest US carrier offers unlimited talk and text with 5GB data usage with mobile hotspot service.

The Dallas-based carrier is offering iPhone 5S for $199 with a two-year contract. You can also opt for AT&T's Next, through which you can have the 16GB iPhone by paying $27 a month installments for 20 months, $32 for 32GB, and $37 for 64GB. Additionally, the Next allows users to upgrade their phones every year.

On the other hand, the third largest carrier, Sprint, has made an aggressive strategy to attract iPhone buyers from other carriers. The carrier has proposed to cut down $100 on the upfront cost of purchasing the iPhone if a customer of a rival ports the number to Sprint's network. Sprint would offer the iPhone 5C without a down payment to such customers, while charge them $99.99 for 16GB iPhone 5S with the two-year contract.

T-Mobile is also making an offer similar to Sprint's. Buyers can get the 5C without any upfront cost, while the 5S would come for a cost of $99.99. However, this comes with a condition that the buyers would have to pay for the unsubsidized price of the smartphone in monthly installments for two years. In contrast, Verizon and AT&T are charging $99.99 and $199.99 for iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S, respectively. In such case, Sprint's deal looks more attractive.

Also, Sprint has launched an early upgrade program called One Up. The Kansas carrier is also attractive as it is the sole telecom player that truly offers unlimited data usage plans. For $110 a month, the mobile carrier gives unlimited talk, text, and data along with 5GB a month hotspot. Now that Sprint's plan appears the best, it is all nullified by its inefficient 3G service. Its 4G LTE service is yet to mature, and unless people are covered under its 4G network, they will not be able to enjoy the unlimited data plans.

Verizon's LTE moat

When it comes to the 4G LTE coverage, Verizon stands as the unmatched leader, covering over 300 million Americans in 506 markets. In comparison, AT&T's 4G LTE network spans 397 markets, but is known for its speed that outperforms Verizon's network speed, particularly in New York City. The largest carrier is working on doubling its speed through its new Advanced Wireless Service, or AWS. However, it's not known if the latest iPhones are AWS-enabled, which supports such upgrading.

In comparison to the big two, Sprint and T-Mobile are way behind. Sprint has robust plans to boost its LTE expansion. Presently, the company's 4G LTE spans over 151 markets. The carrier is not giving 4G LTE service in major places, which is a huge drawback. T-Mobile, on the other hand, has LTE coverage in 116 markets only.

My takeaway

Undoubtedly, T-Mobile is providing one of the most interesting pricing packages with unlimited talk, text and data for $70 a month and without binding buyers in any contract. This can be done through buying the iPhone outright or entering into an installment for 24 months after making a down payment. Despite such an attractive offer, I wouldn't suggest anyone go for it as the carrier's LTE coverage is the poorest of all the national players. By the time its coverage gets any better, it would be time for the next iPhone release. Using the same logic of 4G LTE coverage, you can eliminate Sprint as well.

Enjoying a premium handset such as the iPhone to the fullest is not just about selecting a carrier's plan, it's more about choosing a carrier with broad coverage and good data speed. T-Mobile or Sprint should not be considered as the iPhone carrier this season. This means there is a close call between the Big Red and the Dallas giant.

Which iPhone carrier to choose? This depends a lot on the requirement of the user. Picking between Verizon and AT&T is like choosing between coverage and speed. People looking for greater coverage under 4G LTE would prefer Verizon, while those looking for speed would support AT&T.

However, the second largest US telecom player boasts of providing the best Internet speed to its subscribers. It is the only US carrier that offers 4G network both on LTE and HSPA+ technology. The carrier's 4G service for smartphones is considered as a benchmark for the industry. AT&T's coverage is slightly behind Verizon and it won't take long for the carrier to catch up with its larger rival. I believe AT&T would suit an iPhone user's need the best. What do you say?

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 1:53 PM, RFN98 wrote:

    "ATT is known for its speed that outperforms Verizon's network speed"

    In what universe?

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 2:13 PM, yippz wrote:

    Now that you can get cell service that works anywhere in the U.S. and HI,AK,VI,GU for as low as $3.88 a month from H2O Wireless or an all you can eat deal for $50 from Net10 (AT&T version), pair it with your unlocked Maxwest MX-12, Verykool i613 opal or Android 4600 and you're saving a TON of money, no contracts, no subsidizing and nationwide service.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 2:15 PM, dpuig wrote:

    Nice write-up. As stated, it's all about the user's requirements. A few more points people need to consider are:

    1) Local Coverage. I work and play in remote places where one carrier is only/reliably available - sometimes it's AT&T, sometimes it's Verizon. Know your travel and roaming requirements...

    2) International Coverage. Same deal as above, however here AT&T has proven much superior from my experience. Travel in Latin America, Europe and Asia have never been a problem on my AT&T (and previously T-Mobile) handhelds. Verizon is catching up, but CDMA networking is generally a continental US advantage. Newer phones - including iPhones have other networks covered, but will decidedly "eat" battery power up quickly.

    3) Bundles and Other House Plans. We have both Verizon and AT&T plans in our house (4 iPhones total). The Verizon plan helps us with a "Triple-Play" discount with FIOS at home. AT&T doesn't help with that, however we maintain both carriers for all of the above reasons as we have different needs.

    When traveling together as a family - nationally and internationally - we have seen benefits to either carrier's plans (costs and services), speeds, reliability of service.

    Bottom line (again): It's about the user's requirements.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 2:31 PM, stephenG33 wrote:

    I've been an AT&T customer with an iphone since the second gen iphone and no complaints at all. Its been highly reliable with good data speeds (stream pandora, movie clips, news...) .. most of my friends are on the AT&T network and they all have similar experiences. Its also got an excellent international coverage, works like a charm outside the US.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 3:01 PM, yaovk wrote:

    AT&T and Verizon are ardent support of the tea party. I would never patronize them.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 4:11 PM, imdarylman wrote:

    I was with At&t for 2 years. Even if i ever could get a call to go through it was always dropped. Literally every time. As a phone my iphone was useless. At&t sucks. With Verizon i have had virtually no dropped calls and the speed for everything else is better. Also my bill from At&t was $130 a month. With verizon i pay $87 for the same service. At&t has always sucked. Their u-verse is garbage and also way too expensive. I was told i had 30 days to cancel u-verse with no charges. I cancelled after 2 weeks. 6 years later i am still getting calls from bill collectors for a lousy $130. When they call i get all warm and fuzzy knowing they are wasting their time and effort at their failed attempts to keep screwing me over. Years ago i used them for my home long distance. Because i didn't spend a minimum of $9 i was charged $15 in penalties. My $3.50 bill after penalties and other mysterious charges my bill came to over $23. AT&T should suffer a quick rotting death. If people actually look into other companies they would be out of business. I can only hope that the fat, greedy crooks at AT&T are reading this and fuming at the mouth in their Rolls royces and million dollar homes they got from screwing the whole world over.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 5:13 PM, imdarylman wrote:

    Just wondering how many comments never actually get posted. My comments are not offensive but rarely make it to these comment pages. I guess they're commenting process is as useless as their articles

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 6:15 PM, ww1330 wrote:

    I have been with Verizon since they became Verizon. They are the best in customer service, and in my market area, there is absolutely no comparison between Verizon and AT&T - Verizon trumps AT&T on every level - coverage, speed, and no dropped calls. With that being said, the one advantage to AT&T's service is the fact that you can talk and surf simultaneously, although if calls are dropped and speed is slow, why would you want to?

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2013, at 7:05 PM, Btrl wrote:

    I have Sprint unlimited data, live in an only Fair 3G service area, yet I have no problem getting on the Internet, etc. it may not have "lightening speed, but it's ok. Chill out, folks, and don't be so obsessed with instant access to everything. I'd rather get the great customer service and cost effectiveness of Sprint Han a really pricey service with "instant gratification. BTW, my 3G service is the only spot in the greater area around me that gets 4G etc....sad for me but great for everyone else around. And Sprint is building it's service up very nicely. Love it.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 1:45 PM, Shelley197117 wrote:

    I have AT&T although I'm very new to their service, I was tired of waiting for TMobile to upgrade to LTE in my area. The iPhone 5s is awesome on AT&T's network. I have absolutely NO dropped calls, something else I experienced with TMobile. I will say that TMobile's pricing is much more affordable though. Bottom line AT&T is awesome I'm glad I made the switch.

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