iPhone 4S: Which Carrier to Pick?

October 6, 2011

As I think about my impending iPhone 4S purchase on October 14th, the question remains, which carrier should I go with? The iPhone 4S will be offered on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. What are the pros and cons of each wireless provider?

AT&T is the only carrier that will take advantage of the iPhone 4S’s new high speed download capability (HSDPA+). Digging around the Internet, we learned that most AT&T cell towers are equipped with HSDPA+ support. However, not all areas have had the required back-end network upgrades to take advantage of it. It appears that those upgrades have been implemented in cities such as Boston, New York, San Fransico, Chicago and Dallas. You can see more of them by following this link to the AT&T coverage map (you have to click the coverage button afterwards).

One other thing that’s important to me is the ability to surf and talk on the phone at the same time. CNET has speculated that the iPhone 4S might have this ability on Sprint and Verizon, unlike the IPhone 4. To do this, the wireless radio on the 4S would need to implement a technology called SVDO (no upgrades are required on the carrier’s network). We reached out to Sprint and Verizon and they confirmed the iPhone 4S will NOT have the ability to use voice and data simultaneously on their CDMA networks. The notable exception is if your iPhone is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. 

Folks have also wondered how the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 4S will handle international roaming. We learned that iPhone 4S will be able to take a microSIM card when roaming internationally. From Apple’s site:

 An iPhone 4S activated on Sprint or Verizon Wireless will use CDMA technology too, but it also has the ability to roam internationally on GSM networks using the provided GSM micro-SIM.

Let’s go over the specifics of each service:


  • Can use data and talk on the phone at the same time (Verizon and Sprint need Wi-Fi active to do this).
  • Faster Downloads. Can theoritcally reach download speeds of 14.4 MBps. 
  • Voice Cost: 450 min: $40, 900 min: $60, Unlimited: $70
  • Data Costs : 2 GB: $25, 4 GB: $45 w/ hotspot, each addition GB is $10 (there’s also a $15 200MB but that would quickly run out with an iPhone). 
  • The only texting package available is $20. Otherwise, you pay 20 cents per text.
  • Only one to offer an unlimited data plan. 
  • Lowest cost per month for an individual plan.
  • Voice and data cost (Sprint bundles together): 450 minutes voice & unlimited data $80, 900 minutes voice & unlimited data: $100, unlimited voice & data: $110 (added $10 Sprint surcharge for smart phones )  
  • Hotspot is an additional $30
  • Prices include texting
  • Existing FIOS customers can bundle a Verizon Wireless Plan and save $10. Click here for more info, I found out about the discount by calling.
  • Verizon is known for its great coverage in the US 
  • Voice Cost: 450 min: $40, 900 min: $60, Unlimited $70 
  • Data Cost: 2 GB: $30, 5 GB: $50, 10 GB: $80.  Hot spot costs additional ( 4 GB + hotspot: $50)
  • Texts 250 texts for $5 a month. Unlimited for $20 with other plans in-between.
As attractive as the Sprint pricing is, I currently use Virgin Mobile which utilizes the Sprint network. While the voice coverage has been good, there are too many dead zones for data coverage.
Verizon costs the most of the three and has the best coverage to justify it. I can utilize the FIOS bundle discount to offset some of that cost. 
The lack of a low cost texting package on AT&T is annoying but I don’t text that often. The monthly cost will probably be similar to Verizon’s $5 package. In the Boston area, AT&T offers the fastest download speeds with the iPhone 4S. This is important since network bandwidth is like oxygen to the iPhone. While Verizon does have better coverage in places such as Manhattan, I’m not there as often as I used to be. I’ve always had great coverage at my home and in the Greater Boston area with AT&T. Furthermore, my wife already has an AT&T cell phone so we’ll save $10 on the overall cost. Therefore, it’s AT&T for me.

Thanks Pete and Mike for your feedback. And now, Eric and Dave too.

Update: One of our readers from the south of Boston commented that AT&T’s voice and data performance is poor and he is switching to the Verizon iPhone (we’ve heard other reports over the years of poor AT&T coverage south of Boston).

Related Posts:
iPhone 4S Launches: How Much Does a Name Matter?

Tags: Apple, ATT, Boston, IPhone, Sprint, Verizon

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