Which cell network works best in San Francisco?
December 16, 2008 9:01 AM   Subscribe

San Francisco MeFi-ers: Verizon? T-Mobile? Almost out of our contract period with AT&T. Should we switch or hang in there?

Cool phone toys and features are not a priority for us. All we need cell phones for is to make and receive calls (ok, text messages too)! Network coverage is the one and only selling point for us.

We had Sprint for a long time, but the network coverage seemed to degrade when they were merging with Nextel, and we switched. When we first moved to AT&T, it was Cingular and we were very happy, but since being taken over by AT&T, it seems like there's been an inverse correlation between the quality of the network coverage and their advertising budget about how great their network is. As I'm driving east down Portola from Twin Peaks I drop so many calls it's ridiculous.

Out 2 year contract ends soon, and I'm considering switching. One AT&T rep I spoke to said that things will be getting better - that they're working on enhancing the 3G network and that the problem may be that our phones aren't handling the transition between the 3G and Edge networks. His perspective was that we should get newer phones and hang in there. But of course, an AT&T person *would* say that.

OTOH, we could switch to Verizon or T-Mobile. What are your experiences? I realize a lot of MeFiers have i-Phones, which are on the AT&T network - the i-Phones are totally amazing in terms of gadgetry, but what are they like as cell phones? Are you happy with cell phone network coverage these days? What about you people on other networks? Any thoughts?
posted by jasper411 to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've had really good coverage with Verizon, AT&T kind of sucks but I'm in love with my iPhone.

I've heard T-mobile can be a bit hinky in parts of the city, but my evidence is anecdotal.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:14 AM on December 16, 2008

I'm on Verizon, and the only place I reliably have crap reception is along some stretches of 280 from SF to the Menlo Park area. I used to have dropped-call issues around parts of Noe Valley, but that was a while back and I haven't had any trouble in a couple of years, at least.
posted by rtha at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2008

I have Verizon in SF and have really good coverage (except for a couple dropouts on 280 and a weird new one on 101)

Verizon seems to be the one network that always seems to work (e.g. a bunch of people have phones, some work and some dont't the ones that have coverage typically are Verizon)

I wish the iPhone was on Verizon, that's almost enough to make me switch.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2008

I live in the upper Haight - used to have Verizon - coverage was spotty at times but mostly strong. Currently I have T-Mobile and coverage is still spotty but overall a little worse. The fact that pre-paid T-Mobile works out for me to about 1/3 the cost of Verizon makes me not care a bit about the lesser coverage (it's never been a problem, to be honest). Plus with T-Mobile I bought an unlocked phone (with sim card) that I like, instead of having to choose from one of Verizon's crappy branded handsets (without sim card).
posted by gyusan at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2008

Oh, so Verizon phones don't use SIM cards? They're not GSM?
posted by jasper411 at 9:40 AM on December 16, 2008

I have AT&T and I don't have any problems that can't be blamed on geology or architecture. As above, for what its worth, T-Mobile is the only service that I've ever heard people complain about coverage.
posted by rhizome at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2008

I have Sprint for my personal phone and Verizon for work and while both are very good in the bay area I get significantly better coverage with Sprint, particularly in non-urban areas. I don't think I've ever had a dropped call that wasn't due to being in a canyon or whatever. Verizon is good too but it costs more and really doesn't work well at all as you travel north (if you ever do) and I do get calls dropped fairly often in areas where I should have coverage and I often get poor voice quality.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2008

Verizon is not GSM, and they do not have simcards. However, this allows them to have better network coverage and penetration. In Manhattan I used to get dropped calls ALL the time with T-mobile, and now I have Verizon, and it works all the time, even in some below-ground subway stations, which is just awesome. But yes, the phones for the most part DO suck, but if you just want to be able to call and text, that won't really be a factor for you. I've heard they are soon going to allow unlocked phones, but I'm not sure if that's still going to happen or not.
posted by Grither at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2008

When we first moved to SF (3.5 years ago), we had Cingulair and got terrible coverage; i.e. our phones wouldn't work in our apartment at all. We switched to Verizon for 2 years and got good coverage at home, but it was spotty once we got outside the city, and had semi-frequent dropped calls. Now I've downgraded to a Virgin phone and my coverage is superb. They use the Sprint network, apparently, and we've been really super pleased with our coverage. It's great in the city, great as far as the South Bay and Sonoma, and if it's dropping calls, it happens infrequently enough that I don't remember. I can't speak to Sprint's customer service, price plans, or any of the other stuff since the perk of pay as you go with Virgin is that I never deal with that stuff, but the coverage is great.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:42 AM on December 16, 2008

The last time Consumer Reports did a network-by-city article that I bothered to read, Verizon came out on top in San Francisco (as in most major metropolitan areas, actually). This is the time of year when they publish that kind of thing, so you might want to check newsstands for a copy, but the Internets are reporting that pretty much the same is true now.

I'm around the city for work frequently and I spend a lot of time ranging all over from the North Bay all the way down past San Jose and into the Monterey Bay area. For what it's worth, I don't know a single person who doesn't have either an iPhone or a Verizon-branded LG flip phone.
posted by jeeves at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2008

...forgot to add that that includes me — I'm on Verizon.
posted by jeeves at 11:20 AM on December 16, 2008

I have a very bare-bones T-Mobile prepaid, and I've been happy with it. Never any connection problem, but I don't leave the City much.
posted by trip and a half at 11:51 AM on December 16, 2008

Verizon is great in the Bay Area, I have it in Berkeley/Oakland and it's consistently working when other don't. I also use it in Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Napa and never have had any complaints .... where coverage is poor for me, it's poor for everyone else too.

Verizon phones are not the best, but the Storm is alright for $150 (bad reviews in some places, but the criticism is easing now that everyone recognizes that it's not an iphone). Stick to LG phones generally, though the Samsung Omnia is supposed to be good also.

Really want to know where you'll get reception? Try www.antennasearch.com - not perfect, but okay.
posted by unclezeb at 1:19 PM on December 16, 2008

Oh, and I forgot to mention: we were up on the Sonoma coast for a long weekend a couple of months ago and only those of us with Verizon had coverage - other folks in the group had AT&T and maybe I think Sprint.
posted by rtha at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2008

I have Verizon (personal) and T-mobile (work) and get good coverage on both in the city. Verizon is definitely better in more rural parts of the state. T-mobile recently upgraded their network here, but I wasn't really having problems before then, so haven't noticed a difference.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2008

As a recent convert to AT&T and a long time Verizon user, I was amazed that AT&T coverage dropped significantly indoors. I even called them up about it, they told me that their signal drops precipitously indoors. I never noticed this when I had a Verizon phone.

I believe this is due to the underlying technologies (GSM or CDMA) between the two networks. So if I didn't have an iPhone, I would go back to Verizon, since T-Mobile uses the same technology (GSM) as AT&T. T-Mobile is also the smallest of the three in terms of network coverage.
posted by meowzilla at 3:21 PM on December 16, 2008

The good news is that T-Mobile drops calls way less than AT&T did. Even in the Mission District, my AT&T calls dropped constantly. And T-Mobile's customer service is much more friendly and intelligent. I was impressed when they sent free battery upgrades after everyone realized their Shadow had too short a life.

The bad news for me is that T-Mobile's far western reaches stop before AT&T's, so I don't have coverage at the end of Geary Street.
posted by johngoren at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2008

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