Tech USA

Which cellular carrier is best for you?

Baffled by the business of choosing a cell phone carrier? You’re not alone. Not only do new phones hit the market seemingly every week, but the remaining big four US carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and (for now) T-Mobile – constantly change service plans and pricing to compete more effectively. Because carriers spend millions on advertising, we are treated to commercial after commercial touting the benefits of one over the faults of the others.

How do you make sense of the chaos? No worries. Read on for helpful hints on navigating the shifting sands of cellular. While much of our advice is geared towards smartphone owners who are looking for affordable data plans and faster networks, note that every major carrier offers an array of feature phones that offer voice, text messaging and perhaps email and applications. Most of those devices can be had for free if you sign a new two-year contract.

Before you do anything, check the terms of your current cell plan if you have one. Terminating early to move to another carrier can cost several hundred dollars in fees and ruin any financial benefits you might gain from switching. Also, ask your current carrier what special incentives they have to keep you around. They usually provide deep discounts toward the purchase of a new phone – as long as you’re up for a multi-year service plan.

AT&T – Big and Bountiful

If the deal passes the government’s anti-trust approval, AT&T (T) will acquire T-Mobile USA and become the biggest cellular service provider in the country with about 130 million subscribers. What does this mean for you? It means a wide range of choices, cutting edge phones and devices from every major manufacturer, plus a host of special services.

Of course, the deal going through is far from certain and will take at least several months. Here are opportunities available on AT&T today. And read below to find out what T-Mobile has to offer for existing and prospective customers.

Are you an iPhone fan? With Verizon’s iPhone launch in February, AT&T is no longer the iPhone’s exclusive carrier, but they do have a terrific deal on the previous version that you won’t find anywhere else. AT&T offers the iPhone 3Gs 8GB for a mere $49 with a contract. If you don’t mind not keeping up with the Jones’ you can’t beat that bargain.

For other phones, AT&T offers a tremendous selection including the brand new Android-based Motorola (MMI) Atrix 4G that operates as a phone or the brains of a cool laptop dock. This, and other phones, run on AT&T’s fast new HSPA+ 4G network. To boost phone performance even higher, AT&T promises to unveil an even faster 4G LTE network later this year.

With its powerful market share, AT&T has made agreements with countries around the world for special roaming rates when you travel. Additionally, AT&T delivers its own apps and services like AT&T FamilyMap for keeping tabs on the location of your loved ones. If you want choices in phones and services – AT&T is hard to beat.

What’s not to love? AT&T has had issues with dropped calls. A Businessweek story from January claimed its dropped call rate had risen to 5.8% last year compared to only 2% on Verizon’s network. Also, AT&T no longer offers unlimited data plans. So, if reliability or unlimited data are your top priorities, shop around. (

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