If you’re planning to switch to a cheaper cell phone plan, you can avoid dropped calls and slow data by finding a wireless provider with great network coverage where you live, work and travel.
In this article, I’ll share each of major carriers’ coverage maps, nationwide service scores and discuss the differences between 4G and 5G access.
Finding the Best Cell Phone Coverage
Strong coverage is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a cell phone plan. While service varies in specific areas, RootMetrics (an independent mobile analytics firm) measures reliability, accessibility and speed performance across all 50 U.S. states to determine which networks offer the best coverage.
Below, you’ll find more detailed information about the best national coverage among the “big three” cell phone network providers.
Table of Contents:
- The Best Cell Phone Coverage
- Cell Phone Coverage Maps
- The Best 5G Network
- Final Thoughts
The Best Cell Phone Coverage
Cell phone service includes more than simply being able to make phone calls and send text messages. It also includes 4G and 5G data, speed, accessibility and reliability. During the first half of 2021, RootMetrics tested each network to analyze these factors in more than 3,000 locations throughout the U.S.
After looking at each network’s reliability, accessibility, speed, data, calling and texting, here are the final overall RootScores:
- Verizon: 96
- AT&T: 95.6
- T-Mobile: 90.3
Based on RootMetrics data, you’ll likely find the best coverage with Verizon followed by AT&T and then T-Mobile. Here are the key takeaways from RootMetrics’ report, U.S. State of the Mobile Union 1H 2021:
- Verizon won by far the most RootScore awards (ranking first for overall, reliability, accessibility, calling and texting) with great reliability, strong speeds and rapid 5G expansion.
- AT&T showed major improvements in the first half of 2021 with faster speeds, better reliability and a huge jump in its award total (ranking first for speed, data and texting).
- T-Mobile delivered fast(er) speeds in many markets, a higher award tally plus impressive 5G availability.
Here’s a closer look at how each network scored in various categories:
Cell Phone Coverage Maps
Coverage maps are a great way to help figure out if you’ll have reliable service with a particular network.
You can find each network’s coverage map on its website. From there, you can enter your ZIP code or address to view voice and data coverage in your specific area.
Below, you’ll find each major network’s coverage map and a link to check out the service in your area. I’ve also included a list of more affordable MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that use the same towers and a link to their respective coverage maps.
Verizon Coverage Map
According to RootMetrics, Verizon offers arguably the best service in the U.S. If you’re thinking about getting a plan that runs on Verizon’s towers, I recommend checking out the coverage map to make sure you’ll be covered. You can visit Verizon’s website and enter your address or ZIP code on the coverage map to see coverage in your local area.
Verizon does offer great service, but that doesn’t mean that you have to get a plan directly from the carrier. Instead, you can opt for an affordable Verizon MVNO that runs on the same towers. Here are a few cell phone service providers that work on Verizon’s network:
- Visible (Review): Coverage map
- Total Wireless (Review): Coverage map
- Xfinity Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Spectrum Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Twigby (Review): Coverage map
AT&T Coverage Map
If you’re considering switching to an AT&T plan, you’ll likely be covered. Still, it’s a good idea to check out the AT&T coverage map online and enter your address, state or ZIP to make sure.
In addition to strong coverage on an AT&T plan, the network also provides coverage for a variety of affordable MVNOs. You can access the same towers that AT&T runs on with one of these more affordable phone plans:
- Cricket Wireless (Review): Coverage map
- H2O Wireless: Coverage map
- Consumer Cellular (Review): Coverage map
T-Mobile Coverage Map
If you’re thinking about a T-Mobile phone plan, make sure you’ll have service around home and work. You can check out the interactive 5G & 4G coverage map online to check the service in your area. Simply enter your ZIP code or address into the search bar to see your local map.
If you are a fan of T-Mobile, consider an MVNO that uses T-Mobile’s towers. A few of my top picks for phone plans came from these T-Mobile MVNOs:
- Mint Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Boost Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Republic Wireless (Review): Coverage map
- Metro by T-Mobile (Review): Coverage map
The Best 5G Network
If you’re curious about 5G, you aren’t alone. 5G access is expanding nationwide, and according to RootMetrics, the 5G landscape can change quickly.
In the first half of 2021, T-Mobile took the lead in everyday 5G availability. AT&T led for 5G download speeds and Verizon topped 5G reliability in the most cities. You can check out the details of the study on RootMetric’s website.
If you’re weighing the importance of 5G coverage on your phone plan, it’s important to know exactly how 5G works. Here’s a brief description from Business Insider:
“The 5G standard uses millimeter waves, which are a lot shorter than the wavelengths 4G uses. The shorter wavelength means 5G can carry a lot of data much faster than 4G, but it also means a much shorter range. 4G wavelengths have a range of about 10 miles. 5G wavelengths have a range of about 1,000 feet, not even 2% of 4G’s range.”
Basically, while 5G provides faster data, it won’t be nearly as accessible in all areas. It will be beneficial only if you have 5G coverage in your area.
You can check 5G coverage on most coverage maps, but unless it’s widely available in your area, it isn’t worth the extra cost. You can likely get by with a cheaper phone plan that offers more reliable 4G access.
If you’re shopping for a new phone plan, you want to make sure you’ll be paying for best cell phone service possible. While it varies by area, RootMetrics‘ extensive testing has provided excellent data on each networks’ coverage across the U.S.
In the first half of 2021, Verizon led the way with an overall RootScore of 96 based on data, calling, texting, reliability, accessibility and speed. AT&T also provided excellent coverage and earned a RootScore of 95.6.
T-Mobile showed significant improvements in coverage with a RootScore of 90.3. Still, T-Mobile did earn first place in 5G coverage for everyday 5G availability. Unfortunately, 5G will provide faster data speeds only if it’s available in your area.
To find the best wireless network for you, follow these three steps:
- Review coverage maps: You can visit any cell phone service provider’s website to find its coverage map.
- Confirm coverage: Enter your ZIP code or address on a carrier’s website to view coverage in your specific area.
- Get recommendations: Ask your family, friends and neighbors about their cell phone coverage. You can also ask for feedback from locals using an app like Facebook or Nextdoor.
Once you’ve found out which networks provide coverage in your area, check out our guide on the best cell phone plans and deals available now for specific recommendations. Once you’ve decided on a new phone plan and you’re ready to make the switch, check out this guide that we put together to take you step-by-step through the process.