Customers irked by cell phone service
Consumer Reports survey finds dissatisfaction with high prices as well.
Consumer Reports' most recent annual survey of more than 50,000 readers found that only 54% of respondents were completely or very satisfied with their cell phone service.
Despite “smarter phones,” more-flexible plans, and faster wireless networks, cell service continues to be among the lower-rated of all the services that Consumer Reports evaluates. The full report, which includes carrier ratings in 26 cities, is featured in the January 2010 issue of Consumer Reports.
The survey also showed that almost two-thirds of respondents had at least one major complaint. About one in five readers cited high prices as their top complaint, which was more than any other annoyance.
“America is in love with the cell phone, but they are lukewarm about cell-phone phone service,” said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor at Consumer Reports. “They’re especially concerned about its cost in these tight economic times.”
Verizon, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, was above average in every attribute, including customer support, voice connectivity and data service. It has the biggest network in the industry, but it tends to be costly.
About one in five Verizon customers cited high cost as their top complaint. Verizon’s $60 Nationwide basic with 900 voice minutes is more expensive compared with carriers such as T-Mobile, which offers 100 extra minutes for the same price.
T-Mobile was the next-best competitor to Verizon in overall satisfaction, and worth considering as a good value for some. However, the carrier received lower marks in voice, messaging, Web and e-mail services.
Sprint, the worst carrier last year, shares the title with AT&T this year, and got low marks for customer service. AT&T’s main weak spot was voice connectivity. They also scored below average in every attribute except Web access and texting.
Phones that are exclusive to certain carriers shaped service choices for many subscribers. Another Consumer Reports survey found that 38% of respondents who had switched carriers in the past two years did so because it was required to get the phone they wanted.
Apple iPhones are the top smart phones in Consumer Reports' latest ratings of cell phones and are craved by fans. Additionally, a staggering 98% of iPhone users were satisfied enough that they would buy the phone again, despite below-par ratings for AT&T, the phone’s exclusive carrier.
For service on a budget, prepaid plans are quickly becoming the leading option. Boost Mobile added 1.5 million new customers in the first half of 2009. The main difference between prepaid and traditional cell phone service is the absence of a required contract.
The fairly small percentage of readers who used prepaid service were generally happy with it. TracFone received the highest satisfaction score. It offers inexpensive, basic handsets that operate on AT&T’s network and others. T-Mobile and Verizon prepaid options, as well as Virgin Mobile, received the next highest scores.
Service often costs $25 or less per month, compared with $50 to $100 per month for contract customers. Savings can run between $100 and $1,080 per year, depending on whether users are an individual or a couple. About three-quarters of Consumer Reports readers who chose prepaid did so because it cost them less than a monthly billing plan. The cost advantage of prepaid service was less for multi-phone families.
Additional survey results include:
- Texting and data usage increased significantly. Almost 70% sent and received text messages, compared with 55% in Consumer Reports' 2007 survey; 20% of this year’s texters peck out 10 or more messages per day. In 2009, roughly 40% of survey responders said they access the Internet with their phones, up from 23% two years ago.
- Data service gets mixed reviews. For the first time this year, Consumer Reports asked readers about data service and found that only 24% of users rated their Web and e-mail experience as excellent, and 18% of e-mail users cited the inability to send or receive e-mail as a problem.
Related reading at ConsumerAffairs.com:
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