The Best Provider in Oregon
Last Update Jan 2009
Important Precursor: I list the carriers below in the order I would recommend them to a friend asking for new service. There truly is no "best" carrier for everyone and everyone's needs. It all depends on where you want to use your phone and which services you care about. Even the "Best" carrier in Oregon may have terrible coverage where you need it. Get information from friends and neighbors, and make good use of the 14 day trial period where you can quit without penalty. Note, some carriers may have a longer trial period, but be sure to check before you buy.
What Does Dan Care About? I give the best reviews to carriers who deliver a high reliability of service within their advertised coverage area. I also care more about the basic features of being able to place and receive calls than advanced data services. In other words, all data services are only important after the carrier is delivering good phone service. Some cannot believe I like T-Mobile so well given their limited geographic coverage. Since most of my friends are city dwellers who don't expect their phone to work "in the boonies," they care more about quality of service in-town than service in the "middle of no where." I'd rather pay more for high quality of service (within reason) than save a few bucks and have mediocre service.
Outside of Oregon, who do I think is best nationally? 1) Verizon, 2) AT&T, Tied for 3) are Sprint and T-Mobile. All of them can be good depending on your needs.
Verizon - CDMA (Data: 3G-EVDO-REVA, LTE data planned)- Excellent provider with great coverage. Historically, all the "big city" carriers roamed on smaller rural carriers. Verizon recently purchased Unicel in Oregon (formerly cellular one northwest) and Ramcell (southwestern oregon). The long and short of it is that after these networks are converted, Verizon will have bar-none the most native coverage in Oregon. The other large rural roaming partner is US Cellular, which shares Verizon's CDMA technology. Verizon customers can roam on them without additional charge. The only reasons (at this point) that I can see to not choose Verizon is the iPhone (AT&T only), price, and GSM needs (SIM based phone, international roaming). If you simply want best coverage in Oregon, Verizon has it. Excellent customer service. Coastal and ski area coverage. Verizon has restored actual coverage maps (Hurray!). Verizon provides one of the best customer service of the carriers I've used. Excellent coverage for the UO Campus provided by towers both on the east and west side of campus. I have never heard of anyone having problems reaching Verizon customer service, which is why I have promoted them to #1 in my rankings. Phone selection, while often numerous, doesn't have some options the competition has. Verizon seems to do great network monitoring. They do a better job of anticipating demand and building out before it becomes really bad than anyone else. Verizon has started to introduce more "junk fees" for services that used to be included. Their data prices are too expensive for personal/limited use.
T-Mobile - GSM-(Data: 2 and 3G - GPRS/3G in Portland) T-Mobile has very limited geographic coverage in Oregon. My experiences with them have all been excellent. Study T-Mobile's coverage maps which are some of the best in the industry. If their coverage area works for you, then they are a great option. The thing about T-Mobile is that where they say they have coverage, they really do an excellent job. This means very high quality of reliability. i.e. Less dropped calls. A tower on the top of the PLC building at the University of Oregon makes for great west-campus coverage. Limited coastal and ski coverage in Oregon. Still a good provider for coverage in-town. If you travel internationally, T-Mobile has some of the best roaming options and rates. They have a good selection of phones including small antenna less"cool" looking phones. Although T-Mobile's roaming has improved greatly over time, they still lack significant rural coverage (especially in Oregon), so again study their maps before choosing them. Outstanding customer service. T-Mobile has some unusually good prepaid options, like a "side-kick" data plan that doesn't require a contract.
Sprint - CDMA- (Data: 3G-EVDO-REVA) - Sprint's a decent provider in Oregon especially when their price plans are competitive. I find their data network to be great, and the voice side to be a little more fragile than some other competition.Sprint has native coverage in cities, and interstates. Rate plans include roaming, however, calls will drop when one travels from a native Sprint area to a roaming area. Sprint is known to "make deals" for long-time customers via their retention group. Sprint has no support for conditional call forwarding *92, even if you are willing to pay for it. It's more important with Sprint than with other carriers to "choose the right phone." Some of their phones perform poorly on their network which seems more "finicky" than any of the others I've used. The LG Rumor is an example of a decent performing phone. Sanyo's tend to generally get good reviews. Check phonescoop user comments before choosing. Sprint's handsets often support firmware updates over the air, and can load third party java software through the built-in browser. Sprint's phones are "less crippled" in terms of bluetooth and other features than Verizon's. Sprint charges $35 for an in-warranty phone replacement (which Verizon does not). Sprint seems to be the choice of the "value consumer." Sprint's coverage has improved markedly both in Oregon and many locations nationally due to Nextel "synergy" sites. This simply means Sprint overlaid CDMA on former Nextel only towers to improve coverage. The synergy roll-out appears to be mostly done in Oregon (or perhaps as done as it will be). Customer service Sprint seems to have gone from really bad, to very reasonable, but may be heading back to bad as they have been forced to make cuts (?- I don't call them normally so I don't know their current status).
AT&T - GSM (Data: 3G) - AT&T is one of the original "big daddy" 800Mhz carriers in Oregon (Verizon being the other). AT&T has one of the largest geographic coverage areas of any of the carriers reviewed here. I have personally experienced exceptionally poor customer service in many of my interactions with this company. If I were to rate them on customer service alone, they would be one of the worst. They are an extremely popular carrier with more than 50 million customers. Coverage is good, phone selection is good. They tend to be expensive for entry level plans, but better for folks who spend more money per month given their roll-over minutes. They have the iPhone (which is awesome).
Cricket* - CDMA (Data: 3G EVDO Rev A?)- Cricket doesn't compete with normal cell phone companies. They feature unlimited local calling, from a very specific and small coverage area (in town only, no roaming, expensive long distance). This tends to be the teenager needs a million minutes option.
-- Rural Oregon Options -- (Please do send me feedback on these)
US Cellular* - CDMA/Analog - These guys actually have a massive rural coverage area which the traditional cellular carriers roam on.
Snake River PCS* - CDMA/Analog - I have no experience with these folks who serve Eastern Oregon at La Grande, Baker City and Ontario. See their coverage map. That section of Oregon is almost more part of the Idaho basic trading area than Oregon due to its distance from larger western and central Oregon cities.
Note: Ramcell acquired by Verizon. Edge acquired by AT&T.
-- In General --
Ask your friends and neighbors who they use and how they like them.
-- Regarding International Roaming --
Most/some service providers will lease you a GSM phone for international roaming (albeit at high prices). If you have a GSM phone in the US you have an advantage for roaming-- you simply need a tri-mode GSM phone to put your SIM card into and to enable international roaming before you go. T-Mobile may have the best roaming capabilities and rates for international travelers. Some carriers now offer a CDMA (US) and GSM (International) phone as an option.
"*" Indicates I have not been a customer of this cellular company. My opinion of these carriers is from friends and other indirect experience including reading newsgroups etc.
Who do I use and Why?
I have a Sprint plan with data included. My Sprint plan allows me to roam without additional fee (typically on Verizon). Verizon is superior in my market, but their data prices are in my opinion ridiculous. Sprint's saving me a little money, but they aren't my favorite. I would recommend Verizon and T-Mobile without reservation to my friends here in Eugene. I maintain one or more prepaid phones at any given point and time. I use these as "guest" phones for family or friends that are visiting (etc), and to check coverage.