It’s not always easy to determine which wireless plan is the best for you. Each carrier offers family and individual plans that are filled with options and gotchas. They have different policies on upgrades, and the quality of service varies greatly from city to city, even block to block. Still, price is a good place to start, and an analysis by Cowen and Company, a Wall Street investment bank, indicates that Verizon is the priciest of the four major wireless carries, while T-Mobile is the cheapest.
The report also contains a strong hint that the wireless price war that started last year is likely to continue.
According to the report by analysts Colby Synesael and Gregory Williams, the average monthly bill for a Verizon customer is $148, followed by Sprint at $144, AT&T at $141 and T-Mobile at $120. These averages include both individual and family plans and all fees and taxes.
The first thing to notice about these numbers is that the differences between Verizon, Sprint and AT&T are so small they’re almost insignificant. An average T-Mobile customer won’t save a huge amount of money each month, but at the end of 12 months he or she will have paid $288 less than an average Verizon customer, about half the cost of a new smartphone.
Historically, T-Mobile’s network had the poorest coverage, and until last year did not include 4G LTE, which is becoming the standard for wireless. But the number four carrier (by subscribers) has been expanding its coverage fairly rapidly and recently spent $2.37 billion to buy spectrum from Verizon, which should improve network quality.
However, it’s far from clear just how fast that network is and how many people it really covers. T-Mobile and other carriers have the infuriating habit of saying that they have coverage in certain markets when they really only serve a small part of it.
As for speed, we don’t know yet. T-Mobile boasts that it is now the fastest, but until there is independent data to back that up, the claims should be taken with a grain or salt.
Tucked away in the report is an interesting point that suggests the recent price wars in the mobile industry are likely to continue. Price has always been a primary factor for switching carriers, the report says, but it’s becoming even more of an issue. Seventy-five percent of the people who said they were going to leave Verizon said price was their primary motivation, while the same was true of 65 percent of the people abandoning AT&T. Phones, most people said, are not what’s motivating them to switch carriers, which makes sense, because all of the major carriers offer the newest models from Apple and Samsung.
I suggest that if you’re thinking of switching carriers, have a friend who is already a customer of that carrier come to your home or office to see if they get decent voice and data connectivity. If not, don’t switch, no matter how much you’ll save.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.