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U.S. Cellular

Est. $50 per month and up
Reviewed
December 2013
by ConsumerSearch
U.S. Cellular

Best regional cell phone carrier

Pros
  • Talk and text only plans
  • Strong regional coverage
  • Good customer service
  • Competitive pricing
Cons
  • Limited geographic coverage
  • Limited handset choices

Bottom line

U.S. Cellular is a regional but still fairly large carrier, with about six million customers in 26 states. If you live in one of the states U.S. Cellular serves, it gets rave reviews for its network performance and mostly positive feedback for its customer service.

Plan pricing and flexibility

Lots of options. U.S. Cellular is one of the few wireless providers that still offers a talk and text only plan. At $50 per month for 450 talk minutes and unlimited text, the plan seems a little expensive compared to the similar offering from Verizon Wireless (Est. $40 per month and up) , which allows for 700 minutes and costs $10 less. However, incoming calls don't count against your minute allotment, evening up the playing field.

U.S. Cellular's shared data plans include unlimited talk and text. Rates vary depending on the data allotment chosen, and the number and types of devices on your account. Data allotments start at 300 MB and run all the way up to 75 GB. Up to 10 devices -- basic phones, smartphones, home phones, tablets, hotspots and more -- can be attached to the plan. Prices of the shared plans are comparable with those of competitors. For example, a plan with two smartphones, a tablet and 6 GB of data will cost the same $170 per month as with Verizon.

U.S. Cellular plans require a two-year commitment for new customers, but the company does offer subsidies on phones. There is no early upgrade plan, but its Rewards program lets you earn loyalty points that can be used to get upgrades sooner.

Performance

Tops in its service area. U.S. Cellular's coverage area is dwarfed by the national carriers and has grown even smaller with the sale of some Midwest markets. However, it draws lots of praise in areas that it serves. For example, for the 15th straight survey period at J.D. Power and Associates, it boasts the best call quality in the North Central region of the United States. For travelers, U.S. Cellular partners with Verizon for roaming. Voice performance is every bit as good as Verizon's, but data coverage is capped and limited to 3G speeds. While U.S. Cellular took some time to get going, it has greatly expanded its LTE footprint within its home market over the past year.

Customer service

Great customer support, mostly. U.S. Cellular generally draws strong feedback for its customer service, and it ranks at or near the top in that regard in most surveys and reviews. PCMag.com's Ben Gottesman says that U.S. Cellular has the best customer support in the business, and it earns a Readers' Choice award from the site. However, one national survey gives U.S. Cellular less than stellar feedback for how hard it is to navigate the company's phone support system, but it gets better grades for what happens when you finally do. At user review site Viewpoints.com, U.S. Cellular gets the highest ratings of any cell phone carrier, although some customer service complaints are spotted.

Phone selection

Limited choice, but most popular phones are available. U.S. Cellular offers fewer cell phone choices than the national carriers, yet with the latest smartphones for major operating systems Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry, it's no slouch, either. Still, in PCMag.com's reader survey, U.S. Cellular ranks almost last for choice of handsets and well below average. User contributors at Viewpoints.com agree that the selection is limited. Like Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular operates on a CDMA network, so its phones won't work in other countries.

Our Sources

1. J.D. Power & Associates

U.S. Cellular is the top-ranked wireless service provider in the North Central United States for the 15th consecutive year, according to the more than 27,000 wireless users who responded to J.D. Power and Associates' annual survey. U.S. Cellular is not rated in the five other geographic regions the survey covers.

Review: 2013 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study – Vol. 1, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, March 7, 2013

2. ConsumerReports.org

In its latest survey, ConsumerReports.org rates cell phone carriers nationally and in 23 major cities. U.S. Cellular receives an overall rating but appears in the ratings of only one city. Scores are based on the experiences of more than 58,000 subscribers.

Review: Overall Cell Phone Service Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, September 2013

3. PCMag.com

U.S. Cellular takes first place and earns a Readers' Choice award here, along with Verizon Wireless. PCMag.com readers rank U.S. Cellular at or near the top for likelihood to recommend, plan options, coverage and call quality when compared with the four national carriers. However, it ranks almost last for choice of handsets.

Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013: Smartphones and Mobile Carriers, Ben Gottesman, March 13, 2013

4. TopTenReviews.com

Editors highlight U.S. Cellular's big selling feature -- free incoming calls -- but the short review is not very critical. The carrier comes in ninth place, mostly for its limited geographic coverage, although editors praise its "superb customer service," free incoming calls and "fun rewards."

Review: U.S. Cellular, Editors of TopTenReviews.com, Not dated

5. CNET

CNET doesn't actually review U.S. Cellular, but the site provides a good overview in this buyer's guide that outlines the pros and cons of several major nationwide and regional carriers.

Review: Quick Guide to Cell Phone Carriers, Kent German, July 19, 2013

6. Viewpoints.com

About 100 people rate U.S. Cellular here, giving it a score of 75 out of 100 points -- one of the highest for any contract cell phone carrier. Most say the connections are clear, but some complain that the phone selection is limited and customer service is not great.

Review: U.S. Cellular Reviews, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of December 2013

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