In general, how good is T-Mobile's reception?
April 4, 2010 9:17 PM   Subscribe

How satisfied are you with T-Mobile USA's reception and coverage?

I never upgraded my phone and now we are 30 short days from being done with our contract with AT&T. I'm mulling over a switch to T-Mobile but from what I've heard on the tubes, reception and coverage is not a strong point. I'd like to know what your experiences have been and how any reception/coverage issues have affected your usage. I trust the opinions of my fellow Mefites much more than random people on the internet.

I realize that my specific location will have bearing on the reception quality that I experience, but I'd like to get a general idea of what T-Mobile is capable of. For example, I was a little put-off when I visited a local store that was on a major street but wasn't getting 3G reception. (If you're interested, we live in the far west suburbs of Chicago and I work at a certain university out among the corn fields. If we do switch, I'd be getting a Nexus One.)

If you don't mind, I'd love it if you could rate your T-Mobile experience from 0 (horrible reception/coverage) to 5 (super duper reception/coverage). Thanks!
posted by puritycontrol to Technology (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been on T-mobile for a while, but had their service while I lived in the Western suburbs of Chicago and was very unimpressed. The most annoying thing was that it was very, very inconsistent - some days, full bars anywhere. Other days, heck if I could make a call. All in all, it's hard to give a numerical rating because things swept back and forth so much, but Verizon ended up a significant improvement upon switching. Grain-of-salt-alert: This was all several years ago.
posted by Rallon at 9:24 PM on April 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, Rallon. To clarify: If reception was unreliable, that'd be a rating of 1-2.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2010

It's iffy. I had a clear conversation off the road somewhere in the Mojave desert, but at my current address in Tucson, more than half my calls are marred by serious dropouts. T-mobile's website has pretty detailed coverage maps - my home is apparently located in poor coverage area.. I haven't used any other carriers. Considering they're the cheapest (prepaid) option, i'd give them a 3/5..
posted by unmake at 9:40 PM on April 4, 2010

I've found T-Mobile's coverage to be mediocre but not awful (I'm on the West Coast so I won't go into details). OTOH, although both T-Mobile's and AT&T's people seem to be mostly bumbling nitwits, T-Mobile's general attitude is at least helpful, while AT&T (whence I switched to Tmo) seems intent on making sure I get as little functionality as possible without actually driving me away. A very subjective evaluation, to be sure, and your mileage will vary, but I'm willing to put up with slightly worse coverage in return for slightly better service and slightly less general asshattery in my life.
posted by hattifattener at 9:44 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a T-Mobile phone for several years, several years ago. I then got rid of my cell phone, but was eventually drawn back in, and went with Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile is the worst company I have ever dealt with, on anything, ever.

I got a T-Mobile phone again last summer. Both times I have used the company, I have been very happy with them. They cover all the major roads across the state I live in, and, outside of the basement of one of the buildings I go to school in, they've covered everywhere I've been since I returned to them last summer.

Rating of 5/5.
posted by 517 at 9:50 PM on April 4, 2010

Dead-ish spots in Columbus, Ohio, near the city center, even. In these parts of town, I could participate in calls, but it would cut in and out, and often disconnect altogether. I've heard similar reports from others in the area. Rating 2/5. However, I stay with T-Mobile partly because of the customer service, which is far better than what I had from AT&T/Cingular in previous years.
posted by Maximian at 10:35 PM on April 4, 2010

T-Mobile was great when I lived in the city in Philly.

Then I moved to semi-rural Washington, and I could only make calls if I stood out on my deck. Then, one day, after a storm, I could no longer make or receive calls anywhere on my property. I literally had to drive into town (10 miles) to make a call.

When I called to ask about it, they told me they'd send out an engineer. And the engineer said nothing was any different from how it was before. Except, overnight, I'd gone from having kind-of adequate coverage to none at all. After another month of that shit, I jumped ship.

This on top of the fact that when I was out on roadtrips, my phone almost never worked in between towns. My wife's Verizon phone, however, almost always worked.
posted by Netzapper at 10:49 PM on April 4, 2010

Arrrghghghg I want to throw my TMo Blackberry out the window of my car almost every day! Work forces TMobile on me. Dropped calls and just poor coverage here in Central/Southern NJ.
posted by stew560 at 10:50 PM on April 4, 2010

I went 275 miles without coverage once on a T-Mobile prepaid phone. If Verizon is an option for you, they've got coverage every-friggin-where, it seems.
posted by azpenguin at 10:53 PM on April 4, 2010

I live in Austin TX and I give it 3.5

It does have the cheapest plan and very good customer service whenever I needed it.

Once I go out of the main city area a little bit the signal becomes spotty. But you get what you paid for. It was a good deal based on the price.
posted by jstarlee at 10:55 PM on April 4, 2010

3 - 4, about the same as Sprint (SF Bay Area).

Also, I think I read that T-Mobile Prepaid has marginally less coverage than T-Mobile Postpaid.
posted by zippy at 11:09 PM on April 4, 2010

I use Boost, which is a division of Sprint, and have been extremely pleased with sprint's network...I regularly get service where no one else can...don't have a smartphone, but have used the internet on it a few times...always seemed to work, even in basements...My best friend uses T-mobile and does nothing but complain about their service...also, his calls to me get dropped/distorted/generally f-ed up all the time...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:32 PM on April 4, 2010

I think it really depends where in the country you are. I'm in Virginia Beach, VA, and could not be happier with T-Mobile's service. I have never dropped a single call in 5 years, never have "fuzzy" conversations or anything like that... however, I'm well aware that it's not like this everywhere. My husband's family lives in rural Tennessee, and both of our phones are basically calculators, cameras, and not much else when we visit them, until we get close to a major city like Nashville.

Overall, I'd rate their service 5/5, for me, where I live. I've also been very impressed with their customer service and prices over the years. As long as I'm still living in this area, I don't think I'll ever switch my cell provider.
posted by srrh at 11:59 PM on April 4, 2010

Princeton NJ here, T-Mobile coverage is a 4 and their 3G is pretty speedy, but I'm certain that's because of my proximity to Philly, which is one of the cities they focus heavily on.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:19 AM on April 5, 2010

I've had T-Mobile for over six years, and I've used it in many places: all over Florida, all over California, Boston, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Austin, and a bunch of other places. I've found the reception to be generally very good. I can recall only a few times when I wanted to make a call and there was no reception or the sound quality was bad, and most of those happened while I was in the desert-like parts of New Mexico and Texas. 4/5
posted by epimorph at 3:39 AM on April 5, 2010

I've had T-Mobile and its antecedents for more than 10 years now, primarily because it's generally less expensive than its GSM competitors. In metropolitan areas (NYC, Cleveland, Philadelphia over this period), reception is reasonably good, though there's one really annoying dead spot near UPenn in Philadelphia.

If you're outside metro areas, you probably will have reception problems. For example, driving on I-80 between Ohio and New Jersey, TMO has effectively no signal between, say, Youngstown and the Poconos, which is close to a 300-mile gap. It really depends on where you expect to use the phone.

You should be able to cancel a contract within the first couple weeks, if reception isn't panning out for you. There shouldn't be much risk in trying out the service, though I don't know what happens if you're porting your existing number.

If you're looking at the Nexus One, a CDMA version should be out in the near future for VZW. You may want to wait for that.
posted by chengjih at 4:11 AM on April 5, 2010

It works fine for me here in NC.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:12 AM on April 5, 2010

I started out with Cingular (pre-AT&T merge) in Chicago, switched to T-Mobile after a few years, and now have T-Mobile in Boston. I have never had a problem with reception or call quality on T-Mobile.

I've found their customer service to be decent but not spectacular. They redesigned their website a few months back, and I really don't like the dumb shiny-block interface, but that's my only real complaint.

They haven't done anything to piss me off, but they haven't done anything to really win my loyalty, either. Just on call quality I'd give them 5/5; overall maybe 3.5/5.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:14 AM on April 5, 2010

Never really had any coverage problems with T-Mobile unless I'm inside a building with thick inner walls and no windows. I'm in Northern Colorado. Their customer service is pretty good; better than what I've endured at AT&T, at least.
posted by lilac girl at 4:45 AM on April 5, 2010

Going with the general consensus that the price is good, customer service more bearable than other companies', but coverage more spotty. I have dead zones in my Large Northeast City, and lose coverage whenever I go to less urban areas (central Vermont, northern Virginia). Although I'm generally fine in any other large city (Chicago, New Orleans, etc.), minus the occasional dead zone.
posted by lillygog at 4:52 AM on April 5, 2010

Oh, I'd give it a 3/5, reception-wise. But if I lived in Vermont, probably a 1/5.
posted by lillygog at 4:54 AM on April 5, 2010

I've used T-Mobile for about 8 years, in Houston, with my cell phone doubling as my home phone (my only phone service). I would give them about a 4.5 out of 5.

I've knocked off 1/2 a point because I got very bad reception in my home for about 6 months, about a year ago. This resulted in me trying two new phones, then trying their phone-via-wireless-router service, and multiple phone calls. After multiple phone calls to them, it became clear that the problem wasn't me or my phone. At that point, they sent someone out to my house to investigate. He told me they removed the tower closest to me at a school's request, because parents were worried about having the tower so close to their kids. He went to the next nearest tower, and adjusted where it pointed so that I could get service again.

So, excellent customer service, good reception now in all places in my home and wherever I go, and the problem wasn't their fault. But, it still makes me a little sore that it took 6 months and a lot of trying equipment before the problem was isolated and solved. Then again, they spent a lot of time with me, just to make one customer happy.
posted by Houstonian at 4:59 AM on April 5, 2010

In NYC I'd give it a 2/5. And that's only because they were very nice about how much their service/coverage sucked ass.

FYI, in cities with tall buildings, CDMA has better building penetration than GSM, so AT&T and T-Mobile won't be as good, but on the other hand, you can't use your phone internationally unless you have a GSM phone, so there's a tradeoff.
posted by Grither at 5:09 AM on April 5, 2010

I have used T-Mobile in Chicago for about five years. Lately I would give it a 4 - it does seem to have gotten much more reliable in recent years. I have no problem downtown, or in any of the neighborhoods I've lived in. The two areas that seem to have not so great reception are 1) Northwestern University (Chicago campus) and 2) O'Hare (it has been a year or so since I have had to make a call from O'Hare though). When I was at Northwestern, I got no reception at all in the basement even though people on other carriers were fine. Even on the first floor of some buildings, I would only get one bar. In fact to make a call I once had to go outside and stand in the street in order to get enough bars for the call to go through. At O'Hare I would get full bars in some areas and no reception at all in others. I think the United baggage claim was one area without reception.

In the suburbs I haven't had any problems at all, though I haven't been farther out than Schaumburg.
posted by frolic at 5:39 AM on April 5, 2010

fwiw, in the immediate days after hurricane katrina, my fellow evacuees in jackson, ms., were borrowing my t-mobile phone to try to make calls. it was still iffy--for example, there was no guarantee the number they were calling was accessible at that point--but my phone consistently made & received more calls than the at&t, verizon, and whatever else companies were represented. those were the dark days when almost NO communications besides text messages were being relayed. if for no other reason, i'm a very loyal & happy t-mobile customer.
posted by msconduct at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2010

I'm a Nexus One user in Cincinnati and I would give a 4-5. There are weird dead or weak spots in the city (e.g. at a particular intersection it is hard to use your phone in any of the businesses) but from what I can tell from friends, other carriers have similiar "problems" in other parts of the city.

What impressed me the most was that I was having a coverage problem in my house that just suddenly cropped up about 18 months after we moved here. Even weirder was that I could make a call in the car and talk great all the way to my house but when I hung up I couldn't make another call. I complained to customer service and they actually sent out radio survey trucks and eventually fixed the problem (the tower closest to me had a problem). Granted it took a couple of calls and insistence that I was making my test calls outside (i.e. it wasn't a building interference problem) but it got fixed.
posted by mmascolino at 6:44 AM on April 5, 2010

Northern VA. 4.5/5 everywhere in the region from DC to Norfolk
posted by 543DoublePlay at 7:23 AM on April 5, 2010

T-Mobile for outstanding customer service.

Verizon for good coverage (especially rural)

AT&T if you've gotta have an iPhone.
posted by schmod at 7:29 AM on April 5, 2010

I've recently switched over from a family plan from T-Mobile to my own play on Verzion's network because of reception problems.

The reception was decent back in my hometown in South Jersey, except occasionally I'd get bad reception at a friend's house or at school.

It was near impossible to use my cellphone at my university. I wouldn't be able to get any signal at all in my dorm building, unless I went up 6 floors [I live on the 2nd], or went outside. It was also impossible to get reception anywhere else except outside, so I finally sucked it up and made the switch to Verizon. [And my paycheck hates me for it but hey, I can finally make calls and texts without going outside now.]
posted by QueenHawkeye at 9:06 AM on April 5, 2010

I've had T-Mobile (and before that, its predecessor) since 2002 in both Boston and Cleveland and have not had any significant coverage problems except for what chengjih said about driving on I-80 (I now drive on 90 if I'm going to/from Boston/Cleveland and have no reception problems at all). I think it depends on the device, though, too -- my boyfriend is on the same plan with me and often his device isn't getting signal when mine is. So, 4.5 from me!
posted by at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2010

I had fantastic T-Mobile reception in the Minneapolis, MN area and the state in general. Then I moved to urban Nebraska and it was pretty flakey. However, after some patient phone calls explaining my predicament to customer service, they let me out of the contract without an ETF. So their customer service gets an A+++ from me. Very helpful and awesome. If I was in an area with T-mobile coverage again, I would have no qualms in signing up.
posted by ninjakins at 9:52 AM on April 5, 2010

My work phone in Philadelphia is on T-mobile and it is terrible. Probably 30% of my calls are dropped and the rest sound like I'm in a tunnel. On the off-chance I get reception somewhere, half the conversation comes across as a mumble. I'f it wasn't free (to me), I'd probably be more upset about it. If you are going to pay for this service, my advice to you is to not bother. Verizon may be slightly more expensive, but I have never had reception issues with them in the 10+ years I've been a customer for my personal phone.
posted by galimatias at 10:00 AM on April 5, 2010

Baton Rouge, LA here, and I've had T-Mobile for about 10 years (part of that in New Orleans). I give them a 4.5 on reception and a 5+ for service. My phone gets service is places that most others don't - like in rural backwoods Louisiana or BFE, Mississippi. However, my husband has a Blackberry on T-Mobile and drops calls constantly. It's a model that T-Mobile quit carrying after like 4 months, so I'm thinking it's more a problem with the handset. Still annoying though.
posted by tryniti at 10:52 AM on April 5, 2010

I give T-Mobile a 4/5 here in Austin, TX just because nothing is perfect. I haven't really been anywhere that I don't have coverage (except the basement classrooms on campus) but I don't venture out of the city very much.

Their customer service gets a 10/5. Every time I've had to call them for some reason (and the number is a lot lower than the number of times I had to call verizon) they can and do just solve the problem. I even had them offer to refund 6 months of sidekick service when my brother lost his sidekick and didn't tell us. Totally not their fault but they refunded it anyway.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:34 AM on April 5, 2010

4/5 in the SF Bay Area. I get a decent signal almost everywhere, even under the bay (on BART). Reception is a bit flaky in some apartment buildings and on I-80 between SF and Sacramento. Sound quality isn't great, but it's acceptable.

Customer service is excellent.
posted by kiripin at 11:53 AM on April 5, 2010

I'm surprised at all the low rankings for T-Mo here in NYC...I've been with them for 10 years now and have generally had good service and clear calls. I also do a fair amount of international travel and have roamed successfully (albeit expensively) in quite a few countries.

T-Mo has also fallen all over themselves giving me stuff for being such a loyal customer. My most recent "swag" was a free companion airline ticket.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:12 PM on April 5, 2010

At home I give it a 2 out of 5: I live 11 miles west of New York City, in one of the richest counties in the country. Yet I'm at the edge of a T-Mobile and Sprint dead zone. AT&T is also spotty. Verizon is perfect.

Everywhere else I give it a 4 out of 5, it works fine. I have 2G iPhone so I can't speak to their 3G coverage, but I'm pretty happy with their EDGE coverage.

Their coverage map used to be accurate, but no longer. Wouldn't hurt to check it though.
posted by exhilaration at 12:40 PM on April 5, 2010

I'm on the CT shoreline and I'd give them a 5 for customer service and a 4 for reception. I don't always get 3G coverage, but I've never had a dropped call.
posted by contrariwise at 2:39 PM on April 5, 2010

Portland, OR here. Had T-mobile for years and it was about 3/5 for reception. I couldn't get reception in my basement, some parts of my house, and anywhere in my girlfriend's house. Other carriers worked just fine in all of those locations. I also had issues with dropped calls during my commute. Without fail, any call would drop as I crested a specific hill on the freeway. I figured it was an issue with one tower not being able to hand off the call to another.

People I've worked with have had terrible T-Mobile voice and data issues in North Andover, MA, and in most parts of New York City.
posted by MonsieurBon at 4:37 PM on April 5, 2010

I recently got a Nexus One and signed up with T-Mobile. Since then I haven't ventured more than 50 miles from my home in Farmington Hills, MI. However, from what I've seen so far my coverage has been about the same as I was used to with Sprint before. On your scale, 4 out of 5. I can make phone calls just about everywhere and the quality is good. There are a few dead spots where my phone doesn't work. But my Sprint phone didn't work there either, and my friends with AT&T also have trouble in those places. I don't know about Verizon.

Data coverage is another story. I've been able to get *some kind* of data coverage most places I go, but 3G coverage has been kinda catch-as-catch-can. A lot of the time my Nexus One drops to 2G/edge networks even when it was connected to the 3G network just a minute before... I guess the signal's too weak for a strong connection in the area. For 3G access... 2 out of 5 for the greater Detroit/Ann Arbor, MI area. Still, for most functions, the 2G/EDGE speeds are quite acceptable, and I can get at least a 2G connection just about everywhere in my area.

The T-Mobile people who hooked me up at the local store were super helpful. I haven't yet had to call customer service.
posted by Vorteks at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2010

T-Mo customer in Boston, started out with ATT in 2002 or so and at that time in Downtown Boston the call quality was awful (ATT was starting to roll out GSM). So far T-Mo has coverage everywhere in the Boston area, except for underground or the center of some large buildings. Also had good coverage the whole drive to Sugarloaf in NW Maine, and in Mid-coat NJ, NYC, Downtown SF, San Juan.

Where coverage does go downhill when you leave cities or large urban areas. In rural areas, the coverage is spotty and once you leave the highway, or towns, coverage just disappears.

I go to the Adirondacks every summer and about 20 miles off I-90 and the coverage disappears (but that's true for most providers in that area). Recently the sis-in-law gets coverage with Verizon but only when she's sitting on the loo.

I think T-Mobile allows you to return the phone within 30 days and cancel your plan if your not satisfied with the service. But, that's a pain if you transfer your current phone number as you'll then need to transfer it to another company (and hope you don't loose it if you have to cancel T-Mo's service).

I'd suggest getting a cheap pre-paid T-Mo phone and trying the coverage in the areas that matter to you. Your ATT phone doesn't have all the frequencies that T-Mo has, so you can't just get a SIM card and use your ATT phone. There's usually some cheapo pre-paid phone available with SIM and a bit of credit for $30 or so. U can then fleabay the phone, or use it as a spare if you do decide to move to T-Mobile. Search on Fatwallet for deals, sometimes WalMart or Target stores have pre-paid phones cheap.

I've never used the customer service, and be careful if you go to RadioShack to get a phone/plan as they'll try to upsell you on everything.

Please do let us know what you decide, how it works for you, and what phone you get! :)
posted by zaphod at 1:55 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

4 out of 5.

Sorry, forgot to give my grade ... also I like having quad-band GSM phones. I can get ask T-Mobile to unlock the phone after owning one for 60 or 90 days, and it then allows me to use the phone with a prepaid SIM when I'm in Ireland.
posted by zaphod at 2:02 PM on March 5, 2011

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