iPhone SE Buyer’s Guide: Which Carrier to Choose Based on Coverage – AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 6 Apr 2016

iphone se featured

There are a lot of things to consider when you are purchasing a new iPhone SE. You have to pick a color, choose a capacity and, most importantly, select the right carrier. Choosing a carrier is likely the most important decision in this process as you want to ensure you pick the carrier that best suits your needs.  

For some, the choice in carrier comes down to cost with people selecting a carrier because they want the lowest monthly fee. Others prefer coverage and select a carrier because it has cellular service in the area in which they live, work and travel. In this post, we will focus on this latter group and will provide an overview of the cellular coverage for each of the major US carriers.

NOTE: The maps provided below show the coverage areas of each carrier. We used the most up-to-date information available when writing this post, but these coverage areas may change rapidly. Use this post as a guideline and then consult each carrier’s website to confirm which one is best for you.

City Versus Rural

If you live in a city, then chances are you can pick from any of the big four — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile.  All of these carriers offer 4G service in the major metropolitan areas so you can’t go wrong with either one. If you live outside the city or frequently travel to rural areas, then you need to compare carriers to find which one offers the best coverage for you. Below, we list the four major carriers and discuss their coverage options, detailing which carrier provides the best service and where.


verizon-coverage 2

Verizon Wireless Data Coverage

Verizon and AT&T are the two largest carriers in the United States based on the number of subscribers, and their networks are the most expansive in terms of 4G coverage. Verizon claims to have the largest 4G network, offering LTE coverage for 98 percent of the American population. It has a strong rural presence, especially in the East and Midwest. AT&T has a significant presence in the main metropolitan areas and in the countryside, in particular on the major roads in most parts of the country. Similar to Verizon, AT&T has coast to coast coverage that covers more than 400 markets and over 325 million people nationwide.

AT&T Data Coverage

Sprint is the number four carrier in the US in subscriber numbers, falling behind rival T-Mobile in the past year. It also lags behind AT&T and Verizon when it comes to 4G LTE service. Sprint offers voice and 3G/4G data coverage nationwide with some gaps in the mountainous areas on the west coast. It has been bolstered by its “Sprint Spark” initiative, which uses three different bands of radio airwaves for improved coverage.


Sprint Data Coverage

Among the largest carriers, T-Mobile has the smallest footprint for both voice and data. Its coverage is limited to metropolitan areas and major highways in most states. Once you travel into the countryside, you likely will lose your signal. It is stronger on the east coast and midwest and is especially sparse on the west coast. If you live and play in an urban area, then you really can’t go wrong with the T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Data Coverage

T-Mobile Data Coverage

Check Your Verizon Coverage

Check Your AT&T Coverage

Check Your Sprint Coverage

Check Your T-Mobile Coverage

Network Speed

When it comes to speed, the latest tests show Verizon Wireless has the fastest download and upload speeds of all four major carriers with an impressive 24 Mbps down and 14.3 Mbps up. The carrier edged out T-Mobile and AT&T, which scored 22.7/13.2 Mbps and 20.8/9.1 Mbps, respectively. Among the big four, Sprint has the slowest speeds (11.2 Mbps down, 6.4 Mbps up.), trailing behind the regional carrier MetroPCS.

Verizon also claims to have the most reliable network with little to no outages and a strong connection that does not drop when you need it most. Recent third-party tests show consistent download speeds across markets nationwide, supporting this claim of network consistency.

Note: these rates above are averages compiled from speed tests conducted in locations throughout the US. Your connection speed may vary depending on your location so you should use an online service like Speedtest to gauge the network performance in your area.

Other Perks

Each carrier offers more than just wireless calling and texting. Other services include WiFi calling, which lets customers make calls and send text messages using a WiFi connection. T-Mobile is tops in WiFi calling, offering support for more than 20 handsets. All four carriers provide WiFi calling for recent iPhone handsets, including the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus. Some carriers like, AT&T, also bundle a nationwide WiFi Hotspot network into their plans that allow you to connect to a WiFi network for free.


If you want the best 4G LTE coverage coast to coast, then Verizon should be your first choice with AT&T a close second. Verizon’s monthly plans may be more  expensive than competing carriers, but that extra monthly cost is worth it, especially if you travel to rural areas on a regular basis. If you have Verizon and find yourself in an emergency sisutation, there is a good chance you will be in a coverage area and the call will go through.

AT&T’s 4G network is not as extensive as Verizon’s, and it is not as fast, but that doesn’t mean you should skip the carrier. AT&T performs solidly and offers other services like WiFi Calling and hotspot support that make it an attractive alternative. T-Mobile is an excellent choice for those who live in an urban area, where coverage is not an issue. T-Mobile has affordable plans and fast network speeds, making it an attractive choice for city dwellers.

Last but not least is Sprint. Sprint compensates for its smaller coverage footprint and slower speeds by offering less expensive monthly plans. If you live, work and vacation primarily in cities, then Sprint may be a good choice for a carrier. You’ll get coverage in these metropolitan areas and save some money.

Which carrier will you choose?

Which carrier will you choose when you buy the new iPhone SE? Will you stick with your existing carrier or do you plan to switch? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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