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In the age of the smartphone, determining the best cell phone provider for you can be one of the most important tech decisions you make for you and your family. With a wealth of big and small carrier choices, making that decision has also never been more difficult.

Which is better though: a big carrier like AT&T or a small provider like Boost Mobile? Well, the answer is they’re both good for different people.

Upsides of big carriers


  • Coverage: In the United States, the major cell carriers are generally considered to be AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon. These companies have competed for years to expand their coverage to as much of the country as possible. In the past, it was easy to tell which networks had better coverage, but these days it’s almost impossible. It used to be the case that Verizon trounced the competition, but now every carrier is within about 1% coverage of Verizon, with them just slightly pulling ahead. So, if coverage is a concern of yours, I wouldn’t make a decision based on company marketing about that. Rather, look at coverage maps for your specific area and areas you frequent manually to make sure you’ll have service.

Unlimited data:Speed:Choices:

  • Unlimited data: Recently, carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint have been hopping back on the unlimited data bandwagon, offering affordable plans with no data caps. For some legacy plans, there are also services like T-Mobile’s Binge On, which offers unlimited data usage for popular video and music services. These plans can only be obtained with major cell providers, so if streaming is your thing, you may want to look at some of these options.
  • Speed: There’s no question that major carriers offer speeds much faster than the smaller carrier competition. Again, if you’re looking to stream or replace your home internet, this is something to consider.
  • Choices: Major carriers offer access to every major smartphone as they are released, and there truly is a lot to choose from. Smaller carriers typically offer a limited range of phones, and some of them do not work with any major phone, like the iPhone. You’ll instead be forced into a cheaper phone that fits their plan.

Upsides of small carriers

Coverage: piggyback

  • Coverage: Small carriers in the United States actually piggyback their network off of the major carriers. Popular carrier Boost Mobile, for example, actually uses Sprint’s network to operate. As such, they will have service in the same places as the network they use. The downside is that the usage for these piggyback networks is often capped, meaning you’ll see slower data speeds and potentially lower call quality.

Value:Customer service:

  • Value: One of the best things about going with a small carrier is the value. With some small carriers offering major phones like the iPhone now, you can sometimes get the device you want on a much cheaper plan. Especially if you primarily use your phone as a phone or just an occasional web browsing tool, you can save yourself a lot of money and not even notice the differance when you use smaller carriers.
  • Customer service: It’s no secret that the major carriers offer somewhat lacking customer service. AT&T for instance regularly ranks near the top of “worst customer service in America” lists. With so many customers to manage and deep corporate culture, it’s no wonder they fall short. Customer service by many smaller carriers like Project Fi and Ting receive praise for excellent customer service. It’s truly an area where they shine.