iPhone wars: Sprint vs. AT&T; Carrier & Cell Phone Pro’s & Con’s

We recently made some changes to some of our cellular service here at RiteTech in tandem with a recent move, and I wanted to share some of our observations and “house secrets” in terms of how we help evaluate (or recommend) cellular companies or carriers.

First, some background.  Over the years, we’ve probably had pretty much every major US cellular carrier at one time or another, with the exception of Verizon.  That includes T-Mobile, AT&T, Nextel (before the merger), Cellular One (also Pre-Merger), etc, and now Sprint (post-merger) and AT&T.  We’ve also used CBeyond, who uses the Sprint network, but provides their own technical support and billing.

That said, it is certainly true that there’s no perfect carrier, and that’s an “eternal truth”.  Each one will have different pro’s and con’s.

We were on AT&T for ages – and on iPhone 3GS’s in particular – for a number of reasons, although our relationship with AT&T was never a perfect one, nor is it today.  In fact, when I first bought my current iPhone 3GS about 3 years ago, I actually returned it within 30 days, because AT&T was having so many problems in the Washington, DC area, that I frequently missed e-mails, etc..  I never encountered that problem in other areas that I traveled with AT&T (e.g. Charlotte, NC, Florida, etc.), however with DC as the primary location, that became a big issue.  In any case, the Windows Phone that I switched to after the “30 day iPhone” incident was, unfortunately, practically unusable from a design standpoint.  This was one of the older versions of Windows phone – and before Android was really as refined, or with as many choices as now.  Not to be meanspirited to Microsoft, but that release of Windows phone was really, really, bad.  I ended up returning that phone within 3 days, and went back to the iPhone 3GS, although this time I had been shown by an AT&T rep about the various “workarounds” for the DC area’s chronically overloaded data network – such as, disabling 3G mode if needed.

Fast-forward to about 2-3 months ago.  Our old house and office never had great AT&T reception to begin with – calls would frequently go straight to voicemail, and texts would get delayed, etc..  However, this got even more problematic after our move this summer.  So, with both iPhones now off of contract, we decided to switch one of them to Sprint to try it out – leaving the other one still on AT&T, for the time being.

The Sprint phone, although not perfect, definitely has better reception in our new place than AT&T does – which is a big deal, of course.  In particular, we “stress-tested” calling the phone multiple times, and every time, the call went through with Sprint – whereas with AT&T, about 30-50% of the time, the calls went straight to voicemail, or texts got delayed – despite seeing 1-3 bars on the AT&T iPhone.  Not exactly the track record you want to have at one of the places where you spend the most time.  We also tried Verizon (on a prepaid phone) just to see if their signal was any better than AT&T – and it really wasn’t – we just must live in a really solid, very well shielded or insulated building.

One of the differences, however, is that AT&T does allow iPhones to be on the phone simultaneously for a voice call(s), while also simultaneously transmitting data – such as e-mail, Internet traffic or browsing, etc..  For instance, you cannot send or receive email (or pull up web pages, etc.) *AND* talk on the Sprint iPhone phone simultaneously.  I believe the Verizon iPhone may have a similar limitation.  This is part of the reason I’ve held off on switching my AT&T iPhone – because I do use the phone heavily, and am frequently on it.  In addition, Sprint doesn’t have a concept of “rollover minutes” – whereas AT&T does.

A pleasant Sprint discovery, however, is that you can TEXT and TALK simultaneously on the Sprint iPhone.  So, it’s not impossible to send an urgent message to a Sprint iPhone user who may happen to be on a long conference call or technical support discussion – you just need to ensure that you send it as a text message, not an email or otherwise.  In addition, every interaction we’ve had with Sprint has been very friendly, competent, and professional – I cannot, unfortunately, honestly say the same of AT&T – who sometimes “offshores” their customer care and technical support during peak call volumes.  They seem to suffer the same challenges of many larger organizations, too, which is just that they’re so large, it’s difficult to get consistent, competent, personalized service.  With Sprint (as well as CBeyond), the level of care has been much better and more personal – and part of that is probably because they’re both smaller companies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of offering better customer service quality.

Over the next month or two, I hope to finalize my decision of whatever my “next gen” cell phone is going to be.  I’m still using my extremely antiquated iPhone 3GS on AT&T as my “primary” phone, despite the reception issues at our home, however I’ve been trying out a couple of Android phones informally/temporarily on a separate carrier and phone number in the meantime – one’s an hTC Evo, and the other is a Samsung Galaxy.  My hope is to have a final decision by around the time that the new iPhone is rumored to be announced, etc..  I did take a brief look at Windows Phone, but wasn’t too terribly enthused – at least, not yet – but I’ll probably take a closer look at it again before I make my “final” decision…

Lastly, I wanted to share what was, I think, the most clever way I’ve heard of to help determine the best “carrier” who has reception at your home (or any other location, for that matter).  A former colleague of mine had a similar situation (moved into a new home), so he did something very pratical – he had a housewarming party, and while that was going on, asked to see a few of his guests’ cell phones to see how their reception worked in the new home.  He used that information to help him determine which carrier he should look at.  Bravo!  Very smart…

In a future post, I’ll further describe how the cell phone decision ends up going…

— DB


Posted on September 4, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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