There are 4 major US wireless carriers that rules them all (soon to be three), AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Sprint and T-Mobile will be one, but for now they are still operating independently.
But you also have some of your smaller carriers that feed off or belong to the flagship carriers. Those carriers are MetroPCS (T-Mobile), Virgin Mobile (use Sprint towers), Boost (Sprint towers), Cricket (AT&T towers), Tracfone Wireless, which incorporates Tracfone, Net 10, Total Wireless, Straight Talk, Safelink Wireless, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, and Walmart Family Mobile (uses Verizon towers).
So with all these smaller carriers feeding off of the big boys why should I pay flagship carrier prices when I can get a cheaper plan?
The reality is that a lot of people are already doing that. For whatever reason they are not spending hundreds a month on big wireless service. And frankly for many people they are getting what they need and are using the money they saved elsewhere. For many of these non contract carriers you can bring your own phone. Meaning you can buy that Pixel, Samsung, or iPhone unlocked and not spend hundreds of dollars for a service plan.
But there are some drawbacks. For one customer service. You may not be able to have access to 24 hr customer service like you would a flagship carrier. To save money some of the non contract carriers have to cut back on staff and many of them choose to operate with limited or no staff during after hours.
Second issue is reliability. You hear this in commercials all the time talking about the reliability of their services. AT&T and Verizon (for the most part) sit on top as far as providing reliable coverage in more places. T-Mobile is trying to catch up but are not quite there yet. Then you have the drop off from there and in some cases it is a big drop off. Now in large metropolitan areas these small carriers do fine. But where the drop off happens is when you step outside of the metro area and get into the suburban and rural areas. That is when you can tell who has what carrier.
Third issue is phone selection. As soon as a big phone drop the flagship carriers are quick to announce their availability. People wanting that brand new iPhone or Galaxy with a payment plan are going to gravitate toward the flagship carriers. Some of your non contract carrier may not get the phone until after it has reached its half life (about 6-12 month mark). So if you have to have that new iPhone right now then you will either have to go to the carrier to buy with a payment plan or Apple to buy an unlocked model full price.
Forth issue being data speeds. If you are about that multimedia life where you love watching movies and videos and want no hiccups, then you may want to grab that flagship carrier. Where the flagship carriers shine, especially Verizon and AT&T, is with their data speeds. High Speed reliable data on either the nation’s largest or fastest LTE is what get people’s attention. We are seeing more and more people with their phones out watching a video while either on the treadmill, elliptical, exercising bike, or stair master to help get them through that workout. And when you got that movie or video keyed up to match up with your workout, buffering and freezing are not going to cut it.
The decision to go flagship versus the smaller non contract carrier depends on where the person lives and their career. People who live near a larger city and do very little travel may do fine with some of these non contract carriers. They are normally near a tower and they can rely on WiFi at many of the nearby businesses for data. The data speeds may not be as good but there are a number of people who rarely use their phones for watching a lot of videos.
If you live away from a big city, do a lot of business travel, or watch a lot of media on your phones then the flagship carriers are going to be more appealing to you. Because of the money they are spending to constantly upgrade their infrastructure, customers are going to experience more consistent data speeds and better call quality. The call quality and needing to get information out at a touch of a button is going to be appealing to your business customers. Especially those customers where time is crucial.
To note, there are many MetroPCS customers that choose the carrier for their international plan. They find their plan is one of the cheapest for those who make a lot of international calls. So keep that in mind.