Prepaid Cell Phone Plans: Ratings of Sources
J.D. Power and Associates latest survey of user satisfaction with their carrier's customer care finds that Virgin Mobile, a Sprint-owned MVNO scores highest among prepaid providers. MetroPCS (owned by T-Mobile) and Cricket (owned by AT&T) finish second and third respectively -- a step below Virgin Mobile, but still well above the industry average and considerably above some other carriers, such as TracFone, Straight Talk and Net 10.
The 2015 J.D. Power and Associates' Wireless Purchase Experience Study lets survey participants rate their purchase experience over the phone, in-store and online. Here, Virgin Mobile shares top honors, and an identical score with Boost Mobile; both carriers are owned by Sprint and use the Sprint network. Cricket and TracFone also score above average.
ConsumerReports.org polls more than 63,000 cell phone users, asking prepaid wireless users to rate their services for voice quality, text performance, data performance, customer support, and value. Editors then rank services -- including prepaid wireless providers -- from best to worst.
In this reader survey of cell phone users, which includes both prepaid and postpaid services, Republic Wireless, a company that uses Sprint, but that defaults to Wi-Fi coverage whenever possible, is the best rated prepaid carrier, and a Reader's Choice winner. It's the highest rated of all carriers, including traditional cell phone carriers (postpaid) when it comes to fees, and has high ratings for overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend. Other prepaid carriers that score above the industry average include Straight Talk and MetroPCS.
PCMag.com identifies a dozen less-well-known carriers that are worth considering for cell phone service. Sascha Segan doesn't pick a favorite, but he briefly describes each plan and its pros and cons.
Here, site owner Dennis Bournique lists the best prepaid deals for users interested in voice and text only services, for mobile data users, and for visitors from other countries looking to use their phones in the U.S. Lists are continuously updated, and helpful information -- such as which carrier is providing service -- is included. Though these lists are the providers that Bournique considers to be the best deals for various types of users, no top choices are named.
In this report, RootMetrics looks at mobile network performance in metropolitan areas, rural areas, while driving and indoors and outdoors. Testing is comprehensive in scope, and while RootMetrics only tests the four major nationwide cellphone networks, nearly all prepaid carriers provide service using the same ones.
While testing national networks provides insight into coverage, this test, though more limited in scope, reveals that, in general, prepaid carriers that use those networks typically deliver slower -- though still largely usable, network speeds. The gaps between MetroPCS and Cricket, and the speed delivered by their parent networks, T-Mobile and AT&T, are especially large.
Money magazine looks at prepaid (as well as postpaid) cellphone plans to find what authors Kara Brandeisky and Jackie Zimmermann say are the best choices for different users and different budgets. Costs are estimated using an iPhone 6 (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the carrier does not offer the iPhone) and are based on two years of service. Price, features and user ratings for service and satisfaction are considered in finding the top choices.
Tom's guide looks at prepaid and postpaid carriers to find the best choices for individuals and families. Stewart Wolpin considers plan costs and value as well as network coverage and performance. Performance ratings are based on limited testing the site conducts itself, as well as the results of national tests conducted by RootMetrics on the underlying carriers each service uses. Among prepaid providers, MetroPCS is the best choice for individual users, while Cricket draws kudos for those interested in a family plan.
HowardForums.com is a news and discussion site with active user forums covering prepaid cell phone plans. Several popular carriers get their own subforums, while a larger general subforum will find some threads dealing with nearly every prepaid carrier.
OpenSignal provides crowd sourced coverage maps based on feedback from Android and iOS (iPhone) apps users have downloaded and installed on their devices. Only the major nationwide cell phone networks are listed, but these are the same ones that most prepaid providers depend on for service.
Sensorly also gets its data from apps downloaded by users. It lists several major prepaid providers in addition to the major networks, though coverage maps for those is typically sparse and better information can be found looking at the coverage maps of the national providers instead.
Users rate most major wireless carriers, both prepaid and contract, at Viewpoints.com. Republic Wireless and PagePlus have the highest ratings, but those are based on relatively few reviews. MetroPCS has the best ratings among prepaid providers with more than 100 reviews -- 3.7 stars based on just under 150 reviews, which is above average among all providers listed here. Around 78 percent say that they would recommend MetroPCS to a friend.