Sprint drops to last place in Consumer Reports' annual ranking of the country's wireless network operators, while Verizon tops the list.
Sprint is scraping the bottom of the barrel among US carriers in terms of overall satisfaction. The results come from Consumer Reports, which polled more than 58,000 subscribers about their opinions. Sprint received poor marks all around, with consumers dinging its value, voice and text quality, and 4G reliability. Sprint ranked second last year.
Sprint has certainly struggled throughout much of 2013. It fought a contentious battle to acquire Clearwire earlier this year. It wrestled with its own shareholders as well as the shareholders of Clearwire over the value of the company. It also had to stave off an aggressive offer from Dish Networks -- all while being acquired by Japan's SoftBank. Sprint also shut down its iDEN network in June and has been re-farming its spectrum to improve its LTE network. The company had a full plate. That didn't stop consumers from rating it poorly.
Verizon Wireless earned consumers' highest ratings as far as the top four are concerned. Its customers were generally pleased with Verizon's LTE 4G network and some aspects of its customer support organization. Consumer Reports said that AT&T ranked second and T-Mobile ranked third, with "ho-hum" marks. AT&T managed to beat Verizon Wireless in at least one category, though: reliability of its 4G service.
Verizon Wireless recently admitted that it is struggling to handle all the traffic on its LTE network in major markets across the country, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Its network has reached capacity in many markets, and it is forcing some data connections back down to its CDMA 3G network. Verizon is preparing to offer LTE on the 1700 MHz spectrum in some markets to supplement its 700 MHz spectrum, but is a long way from making the additional spectrum widely available.
AT&T's LTE network has fared better in large cities, and that is likely why consumers rated it above Verizon's.
Consumer Reports said Consumer Cellular, a prepaid provider, was the overall leader among wireless networks in the US.
"Our latest cell service satisfaction survey revealed a somewhat precipitous decline by Sprint that shuffled the rankings of the major standard service providers," said Glenn Derene, electronics content development team leader for Consumer Reports, in the press release. "And smaller, no-frills, no-contract, and prepaid service providers continue to do a better job of satisfying customers, and provide an increasingly viable alternative to some of the expensive, long-term contracts that many consumers find themselves locked into."
Many of the prepaid networks run on those of their larger rivals. For example, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA both use Sprint's network, while Consumer Cellular runs on AT&T's network. Cricket, MetroPCS, and U.S. Cellular run their own networks, but offer no-contract service plans that often dramatically undercut those of the country's biggest wireless providers.
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