If you’re planning to switch to a cheaper cell phone plan, you can avoid dropped calls and slow data by finding a wireless provider with great network coverage where you live, work and travel.
In this article, I’ll share each of the major carriers’ coverage maps, nationwide service scores and discuss the differences between 4G and 5G access.
This article was updated in February 2024 and I review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.
Finding the Best Cell Phone Coverage
Strong coverage is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a cell phone plan. While service varies in specific areas, RootMetrics (an independent mobile analytics firm) measures reliability, accessibility and speed performance across all 50 U.S. states to determine which networks offer the best coverage.
Below, you’ll find more detailed information about the best national coverage among the “big three” cell phone network providers.
Table of Contents:
- The Best Cell Phone Coverage
- Cell Phone Coverage Maps
- The Best 5G Network
- Final Thoughts
The Best Cell Phone Coverage
Cell phone service includes more than simply being able to make phone calls and send text messages. It also includes 4G and 5G data, speed, accessibility and reliability. During the second half of 2023, RootMetrics tested each network to analyze these factors in more than 6,000 locations throughout the U.S.
After looking at each network’s reliability, accessibility, speed, data, calling and texting, here are the final overall RootScores:
- AT&T: 96.1
- Verizon: 96
- T-Mobile: 92.3
Based on RootMetrics data, you’ll likely find the best coverage with AT&T or Verizon followed by T-Mobile. Here are the key takeaways from RootMetrics’ report, U.S. State of the Mobile Union 2H 2023:
- AT&T maintains its lead nationally by winning six out of seven awards for the fifth time in a row. The company’s aggregate median download speed improved greatly from the first half of the year (108.9 Mbps compared to 77.3 Mbps).
- Verizon improved its performance in national testing and won three awards in the second half of 2023 including a share of the US Overall RootScore Award, which factors in results from data, call and text testing. Verizon’s aggregate median download speed also improved from the first half of the year moving from 77.9 Mbps to 111.9 Mbps.
- T-Mobile won its first-ever award in national testing. The cell phone service provider continued to deliver the fastest aggregate median download speed (250 Mbps) and earned a share of the US Network Accessibility RootScore Award, which considers how quickly users can connect to the network.
Here’s a closer look at how each network scored in various categories:
Cell Phone Coverage Maps
Coverage maps are a great way to help figure out if you’ll have reliable service with a particular network.
You can find each network’s coverage map on its website. From there, you can enter your ZIP code or address to view voice and data coverage in your specific area.
Below, you’ll find each major network’s coverage map and a link to check out the service in your area. I’ve also included a list of more affordable MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that use the same towers and a link to their respective coverage maps.
AT&T Coverage Map
If you’re considering switching to an AT&T plan, you’ll likely be covered. Still, it’s a good idea to check out the AT&T coverage map online and enter your address, state or ZIP to make sure.
In addition to strong coverage on an AT&T plan, the network also provides coverage for a variety of affordable AT&T MVNOs. You can access the same towers that AT&T runs on with one of these more affordable phone plans:
- Boost Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Boost Infinite (Review): Coverage map
- Cricket Wireless (Review): Coverage map
- H2O Wireless: Coverage map
- Consumer Cellular (Review): Coverage map
Verizon Coverage Map
According to RootMetrics, Verizon offers one of the best cell phone services in the U.S. If you’re thinking about getting a plan that runs on Verizon’s towers, I recommend checking out the coverage map to make sure you’ll be covered. You can visit Verizon’s website and enter your address or ZIP code on the coverage map to see coverage in your local area.
Verizon does offer great service, but that doesn’t mean that you have to get a plan directly from the carrier. Instead, you can opt for an affordable Verizon MVNO that runs on the same towers. Here are a few cell phone service providers that work on Verizon’s network:
- Visible (Review): Coverage map
- Lively (Review): Coverage map
- Total by Verizon (Review): Coverage map
- Xfinity Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Spectrum Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Twigby (Review): Coverage map
T-Mobile Coverage Map
If you’re thinking about a T-Mobile phone plan, make sure you’ll have service around home and work. You can check out the interactive 5G & 4G coverage map online to check the service in your area. Simply enter your ZIP code or address into the search bar to see your local map.
- Mint Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Tello Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Boost Mobile (Review): Coverage map
- Boost Infinite (Review): Coverage map
- Republic Wireless (Review): Coverage map
- Metro by T-Mobile (Review): Coverage map
The Best 5G Network
In the second half of 2023, T-Mobile maintained its lead in best overall 5G experience, according to RootMetrics.
“T-Mobile built upon its reputation for providing widespread 5G availability plus fast 5G speeds in 2H 2023, as the carrier improved its 5G availability in 96 markets since 1H 2023 while increasing its 5G median download speeds in 102 metros. T-Mobile’s stellar combination of 5G availability plus performance allowed the carrier to deliver the Fastest 5G and the Best overall 5G experience in the US for the fifth straight time, while offering the top 5G availability for the sixth time in a row.”RootMetrics State of the Mobile Union 2H 2023
If you’re weighing the importance of 5G coverage on your phone plan, it’s important to know exactly how 5G works. Here’s a brief description from Business Insider:
“The 5G standard uses millimeter waves, which are a lot shorter than the wavelengths 4G uses. The shorter wavelength means 5G can carry a lot of data much faster than 4G, but it also means a much shorter range. 4G wavelengths have a range of about 10 miles. 5G wavelengths have a range of about 1,000 feet, not even 2% of 4G’s range.”
Basically, while 5G provides faster data, it won’t be nearly as accessible in all areas. It will be beneficial only if you have 5G coverage in your area.
You can check 5G coverage on most coverage maps, but unless it’s widely available in your area, it isn’t worth the extra cost. You can likely get by with a cheaper phone plan that offers more reliable 4G access.
You can learn more about 5G here.
If you’re shopping for a new phone plan, you want to make sure you’ll be paying for best cell phone service possible. While it varies by area, RootMetrics‘ extensive testing has provided excellent data on each networks’ coverage across the U.S.
In the second half of 2023, AT&T and Verizon led the way with an overall RootScore of 96.1 and 96, respectively, based on data, calling, texting, reliability, accessibility and speed.
T-Mobile showed significant improvements in coverage with a RootScore of 92.3. Still, T-Mobile did continue to deliver incredible speeds and excellent 5G results in the second half of 2023 according to RootMetrics. Unfortunately, 5G will provide faster data speeds only if it’s available in your area.
To find the best wireless network for you, follow these three steps:
- Review coverage maps: You can visit any cell phone service provider’s website to find its coverage map.
- Confirm coverage: Enter your ZIP code or address on a carrier’s website to view coverage in your specific area.
- Get recommendations: Ask your family, friends and neighbors about their cell phone coverage. You can also ask for feedback from locals using an app like Facebook or Nextdoor.
Once you’ve found out which networks provide coverage in your area, check out our guide on the best cell phone plans and deals available now for specific recommendations. Once you’ve decided on a new phone plan and you’re ready to make the switch, check out this guide that we put together to take you step-by-step through the process.
Who provides the best cell phone service in your area? Let us know in our Clark.com Community!
- February 27, 2024: Updated the data referenced to RootMetrics’ latest study (State of the Mobile Union 2H 2023)