AT&T's (*Est. $40 per month and up) network coverage, performance and customer service consistently rank in the bottom half of the pack, well behind Verizon and U.S. Cellular. However, AT&T's range of plans and its selection of phones draw praise and high marks, and you can roll over your talk minutes for one year.
High scores from reviewers for the range of plans. AT&T's plans are praised by the reviewers at TopTenReviews.com, earning 10 out of 10 points. The review identifies that AT&T's plans are almost identical to those offered by Verizon. AT&T's basic plan costs $40 per month for 450 U.S. talk minutes and includes 5,000 free minutes for nights and weekends and unlimited mobile-to-mobile within the network. One strong suit is that AT&T, unlike its competitors, has rollover minutes that last a year. AT&T also offers shared-data plans. Unlike Verizon, these plans are optional if you have multiple devices.
Below-average speed. While AT&T beats out some of its competitors in older tests, in recent reviews its network speed comes in at below average. J.D. Power and Associates' extensive network performance customer survey awards AT&T 2 out of 5 stars. AT&T does sometimes boast fast 3G data speeds -- when you can get a signal. When comparing AT&T and Verizon iPhones, Wired's Brian Chen found that the AT&T iPhone "sometimes could not complete tests because it did not have a connection, whereas the Verizon iPhone successfully made the calls."
AT&T's 4G network also draws criticism from the experts. An article in Computerworld bluntly states that "AT&T's enhanced 3G network doesn't count as 4G." Testers at Laptop Magazine report that "AT&T couldn't even tell us where 4G is available" and that they didn't see anything close to 4G speeds in their tests in New York and New Jersey.
In last place for customer service. For the second year, AT&T finishes in last place in PCMag.com's 2012 readers' survey and in TopTenReviews.com's 2012 roundup of cell phone service providers. However, TopTenReviews.com editors state that their experiences with AT&T's customer service were much better than the survey indicates. In J.D. Power and Associates' readers' survey, customers' purchase experience with AT&T is rated an average 2 out of 5 stars.
Extensive collection of phones. AT&T receives several of its best scores for its selection of phones, tying with Verizon Wireless for first place in a PCMag.com review. TopTenReviews.com editors go as far as to state that AT&T has the "most extensive selection of available phones," which is "second to none." AT&T's handset selection includes the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X. AT&T no longer has exclusive rights to the Apple iPhone, now sharing it with Verizon Wireless and Sprint -- and soon T-Mobile, not to mention a handful of prepaid carriers.
Review Credibility: Excellent ConsumerReports.org surveys more than 62,000 subscribers in 2012 and uses the results to rate ISPs on value, reliability, connection speed and customer support. AT&T DSL is among the Internet services covered.
Review: Internet Service Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, May 2013
2. J.D. Power and Associates
Review Credibility: Excellent J.D. Power and Associates asks more than 20,000 subscribers to rate their ISPs on six criteria: overall satisfaction, customer service, cost of service, performance and reliability, billing, and offerings and promotions. AT&T wins in the East region, and scores very highly in the North Central, South and West. Ratings don't separate fiber optic and DSL service.
Review: 2012 U.S. Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Oct. 15, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good PCMag.com reports on customer satisfaction with ISPs based on its annual survey. AT&T ranks seventh overall among DSL services with a below-average score. However, AT&T fiber is second only to the fiber optic service provided by Verizon FiOS.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2012: ISPs, Routers, and Network Attached Storage (NAS) for the Home, Ben Gottesman, April 30, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair Customers give AT&T an average rating of 73 percent over the past six months, with connection reliability and price receiving the highest marks. Older user reviews recommend AT&T internet for non-gamers.
Review: All Reviews of AT&T Yahoo (DSL), Contributors to BroadbandReports.com, As of April 2013