Many factors affect quality of service in wireless coverage areas; these include distribution of cell sites, topography of the surrounding landscape, and the number of subscribers served by any individual cell tower. Unfortunately, there isn't any way to discern any of this from brochures or commercials. Most carriers have coverage maps on their Web sites. Usually you have to input your zip code, and you are shown a coverage map. The quality of the maps ranges between generalized maps that don't show detail below the level of entire states, to detailed neighborhood coverage maps. The coverage maps are usually accompanied by a handy disclaimer stating that the map indicates general areas of coverage and doesn't represent guaranteed service areas or quality of service.
How do you determine which carrier has the best service in your area? The best resource for determining which cell carrier has the best coverage in your area is the people around you; friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. Because the most important thing is that you get the best coverage and call quality, take an informal survey of all of these people. Start by asking them about the following things:
Coverage and quality in your neighborhood
- Coverage and call quality at work
- Dead zones where they can't connect
- Problems at peak call times
- Dropped calls
- Quality of customer service
- Coverage in other areas that you frequent, including other cities if you travel for business frequently.
Make sure that you ask about performance during peak hours, particularly during the times that you've determined you'll be using your phone the most. In some urban areas, especially business districts, cellular traffic during peak times can make it almost impossible to place or receive a call. You may find that while one carrier has good capacity and coverage near your home, it has lousy coverage where you work. Your coworkers or friends that work in the same area will be your best resource for determining this.
All of the major cellular companies have coverage in major metropolitan areas, so if you travel to major cities on business you should have no problem using your phone. However you should review your contract to determine whether you will be charged a roaming rate while traveling. You may be able to sign up for a nationwide plan that eliminates roaming charges.
If you do get a nationwide service plan that doesn't charge for roaming, check to see if it lets you roam on another provider's network when your carrier isn't available. If your carrier doesn't have an extensive network, you need to be able to connect through another provider's network when you travel or you'll have less ability to receive and place calls.
Using Your Cell as Your Primary Phone
A growing number of people are canceling their wired telephone service and using their cell as their primary phone number. This has some advantages, one being that you only have one phone number and one place to check messages. If coverage is good at your house, then this may be an option. Remember, cell service isn't as reliable as landline service, and if you use your cell as your only phone it can get frustrating quickly. You'll also need to keep a close eye on battery life.
If you don't have phone service, your options for Internet connection are more limited. You can still get DSL or cable if they are available, but if they aren't you'll be locked into satellite Internet or checking e-mail via your mobile device. If you get DSL service you may have to get a phone reinstalled. Some DSL carriers may require that you have a phone, stating that they use the phone number as the account number.
From a purely technological point of view this is ridiculous; DSL doesn't require a phone account to operate. Recently state regulators stepped in to one instance in Georgia and instructed DSL providers to stop requiring phone service as a prerequisite for DSL connections. This will probably result in phone companies creating some sort of bundling offers that make DSL without phone service more expensive than simply including a landline phone.