U.S. carrier satisfaction: No love for Sprint, prepaid scores the highest

by: Andrew GrushNovember 21, 2013

Sprint Logo-w600

It’s no secret that Sprint has been struggling for the last several years. Not only is its 4G LTE network a joke compared to the competition, the provider is also often criticized for having reportedly spotty service throughout most of the United States.

On the positive side, Sprint is also pretty aggressive when it comes to timely software updates, special promotions and then there’s its truly unlimited data for life guarantee. Of course all of these advantages only matter if you happen to live in an area that has pristine Sprint coverage.

This is just one survey of 58,000 users, and not necessarily an 100% accurate representation of how all U.S. phone users feel. Still, it does help paint a bigger picture.

So what do most consumers think of Sprint? According to a new Consumer Report survey, there’s little love for Sprint these days. Last year the same survey reported that Verizon was number one in satisfaction with Sprint in second. This year, Sprint has dropped down to dead last.

Verizon maintained its position as the top-dog in customer satisfaction when compared to the other four major carriers, with AT&T and T-Mobile getting mostly “ho-hum” results. Consumer Reports does note that AT&T was the only carrier to receive top marks for the reliability of its 4G service.

The highest ranking out of all cellular services actually went to Consumer Cellular, however. For those that don’t know, CC is a prepaid MVNO that runs off of the AT&T network.

[quote qtext=”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.” qperson=”Glenn Derene” qsource=”Electronics Content Development Team Leader for Consumer Reports” qposition=”center”]

Although Consumer Cellular received the highest marks out of all the prepaid offerings in the survey, Consumer Reports did mention that all prepaid and no-contract carriers scored fairly high in terms of overall customer satisfaction.

What these numbers mean for the U.S. carriers

We’ll get this out of the way now: this is just one survey of 58,000 users, and not necessarily an 100% accurate representation of how all U.S. phone users feel. Still, it does help paint a bigger picture.

As Sprint continues to play catch up in terms of LTE coverage, it’s not surprising to see that the Now Network has fallen behind. Considering Verizon has the best overall coverage (including LTE), it’s also not terribly surprising to see Verizon rated as number one among the four carriers.

What does interest us though is that prepaid carriers continue to dominate in customer satisfaction while growing at a pretty impressive rate.

Most of the globe is already dominated by prepaid carriers, and it is about time that U.S. consumers woke up to this.

Earlier this year, an NDP Group report indicated that in Q1 of 2013, 32% of all smartphones sold were associated with prepaid accounts. This represented a growth of 11% from the year before. Although this is merely opinion on my part, I believe this is just the beginning.

Most of the globe is already dominated by prepaid carriers, and it is about time that U.S. consumers woke up to this. If prepaid services continue to increase as contract plans decline, it will be interesting to see how the bigger carriers respond to this change in the coming years.

For T-Mobile’s part, we’ve already had a glimpse of this response through their (relatively) new uncarrier initiative — and we like what we are seeing so far.

What do you think, are you surprised to hear about Sprint dropping down to last place? Do you think that the big four carriers will continue to dominate the U.S. cellular market well into the foreseeable future, or are we heading towards an industry-wide shakeup?

  • Stephen Dix

    Correct – +Sprint is just terrible. $7.50 “Administrative fee” and $10 premium add on per line for Smartphones, whether you get LTE or not. And 3G speeds that measure around 100Kbs consistently. I just don’t understand what is wrong with Sprint’s management and why they have not been executed by their Shareholders

  • Paul Allen

    If Verizon and AT&T scored highest among contract carriers, I’m sure they’ll soon spin it as ‘see, that’s why we’re the most expensive!’. In my area, Verizon has the best coverage. Sprint comes in second but with much slower data. AT&T is fastest when you can get a signal. I was able to get T-Mobile to wave their (at the time) $200 ETF because they closed their nearest store and I had to drive 80 miles to the next nearest store. It’s a shame that their coverage isn’t better because they had the most helpful reps and the most flexible plans/service. When I have to go to the Verizon store for help, it typically ends in a ‘conference call’ to 611 – usually from my own phone since the rep’s phone battery is dead. Real professionals there, let me tell you.

  • Phil Rigby

    I’m with Sprint and I do like their customer service and a few other things, but yes, the 4G rollout is a joke. I live in Lincoln, NE and we only got 4G less than 6 months ago. I work in Omaha, some areas there are starting to get 4G now, but the 40 mile interstate drive between Lincoln and Omaha is really poor – calls drop, can’t stream music etc and that’s along a major interstate. I spend time in Orlando and Tampa too, down there the service is perfect.

  • Gator352

    Sprints good for me where I live. Yeah, LTE is spotty here in north Central Florida but I get good 3G and can’t complain. T-Mo is non-existent here and AT&T/VZW is too expensive for what I have. I’m not going to shed all the numbers here but Sprint is the cheapest for 6 phones and you won’t see me, or my family, using a cheap refurbished, outdated, and ugly prepaid phones or service. But honestly, I would like to know where they did the 58,000 person survey because me and my family didn’t get to participate.

  • John Bailey

    In defense of Sprint, they own the most spectrum out of all of the carriers, and once they put that 20-something billion they got from Softbank to good use, things are going to go nowhere but up. I agree that I was frustrated as a castrated porn star before Sprint upgraded their network where I live, and now it’s great. While they’re working out the necessary kinks still, it’s been a night and day difference for me. They also have been aggressive with putting out new top tier devices, they carry a Nexus 5 now, and have been actually putting out timely updates for current devices, which they’ve usually dropped the ball on in the past. They have one of the better “Jump” style plans, AKA “One Up” which actually gives you a $15 discount to be part of, rather than charging you extra to take part in it. Once they get their 800Mhz and 2.5Ghz bands fully up and running and making use of their “Spark” technology, it will be truly awesome. I just don’t think people understand the level of work this kind of upgrade takes, with permits, licensing, engineering, decommissioning the old Nextel equipment, and all that other under-the-hood stuff people don’t think about. Don’t get me wrong though, if you live in an area where they haven’t upgraded anything yet, I feel your pain and frustration.

  • Nizo

    I have been very disappointed Sprint’s signal strength in most locations the past couple of years. I suppose the upgrading of towers and what not takes time, but I am one of the unlucky ones that lives in a dead area for signal (even though it shows as great signal on their coverage map). I am lucky to get a single bar of 3g while at or around my home. I frequently have no bars and as a result I miss a ton of phone calls/texts. When I do make or answer a phone call, the reception is crappy and it sounds almost like an old home cordless phone with audible distortions/noises in the background that both parties of the call can hear. I have actually had people think the phone call was being recorded or tapped the way it sounds, but really it’s just crappy reception from crappy signal.

    Now if I drive a mile away from my house, signal gets strong and everything works as it’s supposed to. There is 4g popping up all around me, but when I use Speedtest to check the actual speeds, I have noticed that unless you are within a mile of a major interstate/expressway that the 4g (even with full bars) is still pulling in less then 2mb/s. Which is a bit slower then the old 3g rates were with full bars. The 4g within a mile of a major interstate is pulling in right around 15mb/s in comparison. People living close to the interstate are loving life as it pertains to signal strength. Everyone else is getting what appears to be strong 4g/3g, but they are really getting crappy data rates.

    I drove from WA to NY earlier this year, mostly along the 90 and I’d say that data was unusable/unreliable about 60% of the trip. States like Montana/Wyoming were pretty bad as you’d expect. No real surprise there, but it didn’t get much better in most places. Couldn’t stream music from Play Music so was forced to run with the stuff cached on device. The best rates I saw were around Chicago, no surprise there saw around 17mb/s. Indiana had good data on the interstate, which was a bit of a surprise to me. Wisconsin had the most solid 4g pretty much the entire length of the state on the interstate. That was nice. My destination was Buffalo, NY. Where in and around I pulled in the worst results of anywhere – worse then the wilds of Montana even LOL. I got 0.34 mb/s in pretty much all parts of Buffalo and the surrounding area. It was sorta funny, because I b!tch so much about the terrible reception I get here at home and I had joked with my girlfriend that at least we’d have a vacation from the bad signal, when in reality it was worse the majority of the time!

    All in all I see no reason to stay with Sprint until I move next to a freeway/interstate/expressway. My monthly data use while not on Wi-Fi has rarely exceeded 33 mb a month. That’s how bad they are in most places. I will not be signing a new contract with them, unless I get a solid signal at home within the next 10 months — and I’m not expecting to at this point. I envy those who do live in the sweet spots, but I know for sure those spots are far and few in between atm. I should also mention that Sprint’s support sucks and their in store sales reps either aren’t very honest or aren’t well informed about the products and services they are pushing.

  • Say What?

    I switched from Verizon to Sprint in July of 2012. I had Verizon for about ten years. I was tired of their billing issues and high prices. Their service was awesome though. I switched to Sprint at a not so good time, as they had just decided to start Network Vision and hurricane Sandy hit here a few months later crippling service for awhile. During that time a lot of people moved from Sprint to other carriers because the service wasn’t too good. There were dropped calls, dead spots and their data was just terrible and barely usable. My girlfriend was very annoyed at that time and would always ask me why we switched. I had to call and get an Airave to get service in my house.

    Things are COMPLETELY different now. There is LTE popping up everywhere and 3G has gotten a lot faster and I don’t ever drop calls. In the past few months I even have good service in my basement. I read about this whole Softbank merger and how it was improve Sprint’s service and I understood what was going on. As of right now I’m glad I switched. The problem is that no one takes the time to get to know about how cell service works and most people just get impatient and leave Sprint with their panties in a bunch. A few of my friends are switching from Verizon to Sprint now because they are impressed with how everything has improved. It’s like the service is on par with Verizon’s now.

    If you haven’t received any upgrades in your area yet then I can understand your frustrations. I was in the same boat last year. When you do receive those upgrades you will see just how good the service can get.