Lately sprint has been trumpeting that they have a network that is within 1% of the “other” networks. This claim seems to surround measuring the network only where a majority of people live. The only issue with this is that people often travel outside of those cities. There is another world outside of those small paths around the interstate and urban centers.
Companies like sprint and tmobile save large amounts of money and trouble by not having quite as much coverage out in the sticks. TMobile is one of those companies that you want to root for because of some of their more rebellious and wild ideas, however they are problematic in Iowa due to their partnership with iWireless. Outside of cities the coverage quickly falls to 2G.
Does this mean that there is only a couple of choices like verizon? No, not quite… I have had good luck with Google’s MVNO answer to cell phone service, project Fi. It uses sprint, Tmobile and US Cellular and will pick the best coverage for your location. Is it perfect, No. It sometimes has issues sending text messages and some outbound calls show up as “Unknown”. I have also noticed that sometimes calling my grandparents that are on a ILEC phone line the calls will fail or just ring through to nothing. Calls to Fi support end with them blaming the ILEC (Butler Bremer telephone company). The biggest attraction is their low cost coverage. It is only $20 a month for talk and text and then $10 a gb for data. At the start of the month you set a slider for how much data you expect to use. If you go over, it is $10 a gb, If you go under your guess you get the remainder of the money back as a credit. The other nice benefit is that international travel is also covered by Fi.Text is free, talk depends on the country but is usually $.20 a min and data is still the $10/gb that it always is. Internationally it uses TMobile’s network as well as Three.
If fi is a little too experimental or you plan on using more data, there are other options. My wife (the data hog) has an Iphone that is connected to Straight Talk wireless a MVNO partnership between telemovil and Walmart. For $45 a month she gets unlimited talk/text and 5gb of data. Her phone is currently on the AT&T network.
Want to see what coverage looks like near you? Most providers have a map (That shows a rosy picture of their coverage) as well as third party maps.