AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile: Which iPhone 6 carrier to choose based on coverage

BY Joe Rossignol

Published 11 Sep 2014

iPhone 6 Plus

If you are a prospective buyer of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus that Apple introduced at its product event on Tuesday afternoon, then perhaps you are wondering which carrier in the United States provides the best coverage. After you’re done comparing prices, read ahead to find out which carrier is most suitable for you in terms of service. 

It can be a challenging and confusing task to know which carriers provide the best coverage in the United States, especially since each uses conflicting claims that almost border on misleading advertising. For instance, all of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile each claim that they have the fastest or most reliable 4G LTE network in the United States.

It simply can’t be true that all of the networks have the best coverage, so we’ve done the homework for you to truly determine which is best. The decision to choose one carrier or another will relate to where you live, what your data consumption is like and other factors.

There are maps provided to illustrate the coverage areas of each carrier. We strived to use the most up-to-date information available, but it is important to understand that carriers are rapidly expanding their networks as we speak. We recommend using this post as a reference to support your own decision on which carrier is best for you.


Verizon Network Coverage 4G LTE

Verizon is the largest carrier in the United States in terms of subscribers, and its network is certainly ready to live up to the capacity. Verizon claims to provide the best coverage in the United States, and has the only 100% 4G LTE network nationwide. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile still deliver 2G or 3G speeds in certain parts of their networks.

Verizon’s network covers a claimed 97% of Americans, based on the latest statistics available. The network provides two times the LTE coverage of any other network, according to the carrier, with a very saturated network presence in the northeast, midwest and east coast in general. Verizon also has the most expansive network in California.

If you consider paying higher prices for trusted and reliable wireless service acceptable, then you should definitely consider Verizon for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The CDMA network’s extensive coverage delivers high-speed data to everyone from city dwellers to those living in smaller, rural towns — perfect for those traveling, too.

Plus, it is convenient to have LTE access nearly anywhere you go. Verizon’s planned VoLTE, or Voice Over LTE, rollout will see CDMA discontinued and allow for unlocked LTE smartphones in the near future.

If you choose to look past Verizon, then AT&T is your next best bet for network coverage and reliability nationwide.

Check Your Verizon Coverage


AT&T Coverage Map

AT&T also claims to have the fastest and most reliable 4G LTE network in the United States. Whether or not that is true can be contested, but there is no arguing that the U.S.’s second-largest carrier in terms of subscribers does have a strong presence in both major metropolitan areas and rural areas throughout the continental United States.

The latest official statistic reveals that AT&T’s network covers more than 300 million Americans, so there is a good chance that you fall under that umbrella. AT&T’s 4G LTE coverage in particular does not match Verizon, but the carrier is performing network expansion throughout 2014 that will see its high-speed coverage offered in more regions.

AT&T claims to have less than a 1% rate of dropped calls nationwide, based on an independent third-party drive test performed last year. The GSM network also has less traffic than Verizon, potentially leading to faster speeds, with VoLTE support rolling out and support for simultaneous voice and data.

AT&T’s network covers over 400 markets in the United States, with an emphasis on the midwest, northeast and broader east coast. The network decreases in scale when you start heading out west, particularly in less-populated areas of Montana, Oregon and Nevada.

Overall, in terms of coverage, AT&T should not disappoint. If you are looking for a trusted and reliable network that might sometimes drop from 4G LTE down to 3G or 2G (EDGE) when you are travelling in more scarce areas, look no further.

Check Your AT&T Coverage


Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.20.32 PM

Sprint is unlike its competitors in the sense that it does not promote its network as being the fastest or most reliable. Instead, the U.S’s third-largest carrier markets itself as America’s Newest Network, which is a rather vague claim. Perhaps the reason why is that Sprint’s network lags behind AT&T and Verizon in terms of nationwide coverage.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, you are likely going to be fine with Sprint. But when you travel out to more rural areas in the United States, don’t expect to be getting a full five bars — or any, for that matter.

At the same time, it should be noted that Sprint is putting a lot of effort into improving their network from coast to coast. The carrier claims to have enhanced its nationwide 3G and 4G LTE networks, leading to fewer dropped calls, stronger indoor signals and quicker access to email and streaming music and video.

Sprint employs technologies that are committed to keeping you connected, including 8T8R radios that boost its 2.5 GHz signal and Wi-Fi calling, which allows customers to make domestic and international calls over a wireless connection. The CDMA network also supports HD Voice for providing next-generation call quality and clarity.

Ultimately, while you might not have coverage everywhere, especially in the central and northwest states, you are also paying a lot less for most Sprint plans compared to the big two in AT&T and Verizon. If you’re a prospective iPhone 6 user looking to save a few dollars, than it is a decision you will have to make.

Check Your Sprint Coverage


TMobile Map

Last, but certainly not least, is the emerging Un-carrier known as T-Mobile. While the carrier has been pushing to reinvent the industry by removing annual service contracts, introducing affordable prepaid plans, ushering in a monthly installment program, supporting Wi-Fi calling and more, its network is not quite yet as impressive as the competition.

I recently spent one month in New York City and used T-Mobile as my carrier of choice during my stay in the United States’ most densely populated metropolitan area. For the most part, while I was in Manhattan, the service was exceptional. However, I would often times lose bars when I was inside or apartment or elsewhere indoors.

That’s the catch about T-Mobile’s network: when you’re in a major city or place where a lot of people live, you will probably have respectable 4G LTE service. But when you go on a road trip through upstate and western New York, for example, I can attest from personal experience that you will quickly default to 2G service or no signal at all.

Just like with Sprint, T-Mobile is doing whatever it can to make necessary improvements to its network coverage. T-Mobile already claims to have the fastest nationwide 4G LTE network in the United States in terms of download speeds, perhaps because it has less traffic on its network, but its coverage is still subpar compared to the big three above.

Nevertheless, don’t be so quick to discount the magenta-colored carrier. T-Mobile has built its network to be data strong, with more capacity than any other major national carrier. It also offers unlimited data and text in over 120 countries at no extra charge, which is honestly a steal if you’re someone that travels abroad on even an occasional basis.

You’re also going not going to have to offer an arm and a leg for wireless service on T-Mobile, as the carrier offers affordable plans such as unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data for $80 per month. You can also get unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of 4G LTE data through the Simple Starter plan for just $45 per month during an ongoing promotion.

If you are a city dweller on a budget, with intentions to purchase the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, then be sure to give T-Mobile a serious look. The GSM network, which is being upgraded from 2G to more 4G LTE through mid 2015, covers over 230 million Americans and has 96% coverage from coast to coast.

Check Your T-Mobile Coverage

Which carrier do you prefer: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile?