Among wireless carriers in the U.S., Verizon Wireless has the best voice quality in five of the nation's six regions, with U.S. Cellular - not AT&T or Sprint - taking the honors in the sixth region. In the west, Verizon shared the top ranking with Alltel and T-Mobile. The honors comes courtesy of J.D. Powers and Associates, which conducts a semiannual study of voice call quality across the country.
Overall, J.D. Powers found that the wireless industry has done a good job at upgrading its networks, noting that reported problems with connectivity issues such as dropped calls and static have declined since the last report six months ago. In a statement, Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, said:
As carriers continue to upgrade existing network infrastructure and create more robust coverage footprints, wireless customers are recognizing an improvement in performance. As customers continue to increasingly stress wireless networks with growing call volume and data usage for texting, e-mailing and surfing the mobile Web, it is critical for carriers to keep enhancing network performance by maintaining and upgrading to next-generation technologies.
The study measures wireless call quality, based on seven problem areas that impact overall carrier performance: dropped calls; static/interference; failed call connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification.
Also see: NYT: Customers Angered as iPhones Overload AT&T
Scrutiny of wireless service becomes increasingly important because, in the wireless game, carriers are quick to alter the message to meet their needs. Case in point: AT&T touts the "most bars worldwide" and yet it has been the subject of much ridicule in major cities across the U.S. because its voice and data service on the iPhone is considered to be among the worst. Maybe if I were somewhere else in the world, AT&T would be a good choice - but I'm not much of a global traveler.
After trials with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley region - and a small handful of other places around the country - I've stuck by Verizon Wireless because, for me, it offers the best coverage. The others were hit or miss around the region, though Sprint and T-Mobile were strong contenders. For me, AT&T isn't in the race (which also means I don't own an iPhone.)
For a long time, I've been advising friends and family (and even readers of this blog) to shop the service instead of shopping the phone. It can be the coolest and sexiest device in the world - but if the service sucks, what's the use?
Of course, with the carriers offering 30-day no-obligation trials of their devices and service, I would strongly encourage phone shoppers to take a test run first. At least you know what you're getting yourself into before you get locked into a two-year contract.