Chosing a cell phone plan involves more than just comparing prices. Network speed and coverage are equally important factors for any consumer. For San Diegans, I’ve often noted that Verizon’s LTE network offers good speed and wide coverage — but at a premium price. Conversely, AT&T offered poor speed and spotty coverage at the same premium price making it a must-miss proposition. T-Mobile and Sprint have been relegated runner-up status for the last decade. But the 4G-LTE landscape is changing, for the better.
AT&T finally got the message, because it has upgraded its network and is now offering decent LTE network service to San Diego, according to some independent evaluators. PC Magazine recently released its cell phone tests and it found AT&T was the top carrier in San Diego. It also found some improvement in the Sprint and T-Mobile networks, although not as dramatic as AT&Ts. Local consumers are still reporting spotty reception in some areas of San Diego at Cellreception.com — it is worth checking this resource before committing to any plans. And Rootmetrics.com also reports improved speeds in the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, relative to Verizon. In fact, in April 2013, Rootmetrics rated Verizon and AT&T as quality-comparable — which is a first. T-Mobile wasn’t far off either of these carriers.
Sprint, alas, continues to be a laggard. It has been touting its move to LTE for almost a year now, but its roll-out of “Sprint Spark” (its LTE-branded name) isn’t expected to be complete until late 2014. San Diego hasn’t been targeted by Sprint for an early build-out. So we can’t recommend signing up for Sprint for another year.