5 On Your Side

Cutting Through the Cell Phone Static

Posted December 17, 2007

Buyers once again placed cell phone service among the lowest-rated products in a recent Consumer Reports survey.

Fewer than half the people of the people who responded to the survey said they were completely or very satisfied with their service. Those unhappy customers have joined in the more than 100 class-action lawsuits against carriers in the past five years.

Sprint advertisements tout fast-moving service: "People taking care of business at the speed of light. That's business at Sprint speed."

Sprint speed, however, apparently is not good enough for many. Consumer Reports' latest survey of cell-phone users rated Sprint among the lowest of the five major carriers.

“This is the sixth year of our survey. Sprint was consistently among the lowest-rated in satisfaction, dropped calls and customer service," Consumer Reports’ Rosalind Tordesillas said.

Users of AT&T—home of the acclaimed iPhone—reported problems with static and gaps in service in many of the 20 cities surveyed.

Of the more than 47,000 cell phone users Consumer Reports surveyed, only 45 percent were highly satisfied with their service.

"Among the top complaints were the required contract extensions when you change your phone or plan. But recently, several big carriers have announced plans to eliminate these mandatory contract extensions,” Tordesillas said.

Controversial early termination fees are also being re-examined. Several major carriers have agreed to prorate them over the course of the contract.

Poor service – including dropped calls and poor coverage – was the top reason people switched their cell-service carrier in the past three years, the survey showed.

Among the better cell providers in the survey was Verizon Wireless for its better-than-average phone service. Alltel, a smaller provider, also got high marks.

"If you're looking for a new carrier, your best bet is to start with one that did well in our survey,” Tordesillas recommended.

Consumer Reports also urged buyers to take advantage of 14- to 30-day free trial periods that carriers offer. That allows customers unhappy with the service to cancel it without paying fees or penalties.

When moving to a new cell phone provider, Consumer Reports recommends considering a one-year plan. The phone might cost more, but that price comes along with the flexibility to change service in a year.

32 Comments

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  • dm919 Dec 19, 2007

    "I've had Verizon for 8-years, but I'm tired of their two-year agreement required to upgrade my phone. I may look at Alltel.:

    EVERY cell phone carrier makes you sign up for a 2 year contract to get a discount on the phone...

  • drewbyh Dec 19, 2007

    Verizon actually has a contract with Alltel to use Alltels cell towers in this area as Verizon doesn't own any. Whether you're with Verizon or Alltel, you're going to get the same cell service. At least in this area.

  • slappyh99 Dec 19, 2007

    I've been with US Cellular for about 15 years with NO problems. I have a razor phone and have never been anywhere and not had service. Even down east where the Sprint, Alltel, AT&T, Verzion, etc. work about as good as two tin cans and a string. I've been places with coworkers who had service with the other carriers and I would be the only one with cell service. The customer service has been great, can do most business over the phone.

  • olive91988 Dec 19, 2007

    We had Cingular, now AT&T, for years with dropped calls and poor reception becoming more and more common. We recently switced to Verizon. Guess what? We still get about the same number of dropped calls and also poor reception. We both live and work in the Raleigh/Durham area, and should be no dead zones that we travel through during the workweek. We use major interstates and live in busy N. Raleigh, so there is really no excuse for all the poor service. Have you noticed that service just gets worse and worse? I remember my old analog phone NEVER had a single dropped call. Things should be improving not getting worse. You cannot get an analog phone anymore, the cell towers don't support them, they say.

  • Raptor06 Dec 19, 2007

    I've had Verizon for 8-years, but I'm tired of their two-year agreement required to upgrade my phone. I may look at Alltel.

  • mammothman53 Dec 19, 2007

    I've been with Alltel for 2 years after being with Verizon for the prior 2 years and I can personally say Alltel beats Verizon hands down. The service is better in every aspect,the plans are better and you don't have to start your contract over every time you change your plan like you do with Verizon. Very few dropped calls (I was constantly losing calls with Verizon) and they have the My Circle feature where you can call as many as 10 people outside the Alltel network without using any of your plan minutes. The coverage area is good too having done a lot of traveling the past 2 years.

  • rargos Dec 18, 2007

    I feel very fortunate to remember living in the pre-cell-phone era. Whenever I see people whose cell phone is attached to their ear all day long (sometimes literally with those Bluetooth earpieces), I have to ask myself how they survived before cell-phones. Why does anyone need to be on the phone almost every waking moment?

    Of course, for a long time I've said that the reason it's dangerous to talk on a cell phone and drive at the same time is not that talking and driving is distracting (people do it all the time with real humans in the car), it's that the cell phone service is so poor that you have to devote an inordinate amount of your attention to making out what the other person is saying.

  • dm919 Dec 18, 2007

    When are people going to stop whining about dropped calls and not getting 5 bars in their house and realize cell phones are a luxury not a necessity. It seems like the morons who complain about dropping calls all the time TALK WAY TOO MUCH! You are the one who is trying to turn left from the right lane in holiday traffic in Crossroads and yapping on the phone about nothing that couldn't wait till later. You are the one who I ride behind from Clayton to Durham and NEVER get off the phone the whole entire way. Every phone carrier has cruddy service and yet everyone thinks the grass will always be greener on the other side.

  • mrtwinturbo Dec 18, 2007

    There is nothing better than laying on the beach and not having to worry about a phone call, don't buy into it and just relax and enjoy life....

  • Longshanks Dec 18, 2007

    Alltel is the best. I've had them for 8 years now, traveled all over the country, and have never lost service or had problems. Plus, their customer service is great.

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