In Consumer Reports’ most recent survey of wireless customers, AT&T once again came in at the bottom of carrier rankings. AT&T also scored last in Consumer Reports’ 2010 survey, while Sprint took the bottom spot in 2009.
The annual customer satisfaction survey, which polls 66,000 Consumer Reports subscribers, found that for 2011, consumers are most happy with Consumer Cellular, U.S. Cellular and Credo — three carriers with relatively scant name recognition nationwide.
Of the four most popular U.S. wireless carriers, Verizon earned top consumer honors, followed closely by Sprint. T-Mobile ranked third, but still easily beat AT&T, which languished at the bottom of the poll.
An AT&T spokesperson issued a statement to Wired.com regarding the survey results: “While we’ll of course evaluate and learn from the Consumer Reports survey, we made significant progress in our network in 2011…. As customer demand continues to skyrocket, our proposed T-Mobile merger will enable AT&T to improve our customers’ experience even more.”
This year, AT&T said it improved its 3G dropped call performance by 25 percent and invested billions in expanding and improving its network infrastructure.
The survey rated carriers on areas such as overall value, satisfaction with voice, data and texting services, and customer support. U.S. Cellular was the only major carrier to score above average for value.
“Our survey indicates that subscribers to prepaid and smaller standard-service providers are happiest overall with their cellphone service,” Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said in the announcement.
Reynolds’ comment makes perfect sense. After all, customers who ask the least of their wireless carriers have the least to complain about. Conversely, power users who demand high data speeds, blanket coverage, and near-zero incidence of dropped calls will have more opportunity to find fault in their wireless provider.
What’s more, users who travel often, jumping from cell tower to cell tower, should also have a higher likelihood of poor service than people whose travel patterns keep them within range of a single, unburdened tower.
Verizon has consistently performed well when it comes to 4G data speeds and call reliability. AT&T, by comparison, consistently provides the best data speeds — when coverage isn’t spotty.
Poor scores among consumers only add insult to recent AT&T injury. In late August, T-Mobile customers found satisfaction in the news that the Justice Department was putting a block on a planned AT&T merger. And more recently, in late November, AT&T withdrew its merger application from the FCC. In recent months, AT&T has also been accused of rigging data charges so subscribers overpay on their monthly bills.
Consumer Reports’ survey also drills down into consumer satisfaction in specific U.S. metropolitan areas, ranking T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and U.S. Cellular (where applicable). According to consumers, Verizon is tops in most locales, including San Francisco, New York and Houston. Sprint tied Verizon for first place in a number of areas including Atlanta and Philadelphia, and T-Mobile was voted best in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Austin.
AT&T didn’t make the number-one spot in any of Consumer Reports’ 22 listed U.S. metropolitan areas.
“AT&T has had a significant history of problems in dense urban environments like New York and San Francisco,” Gartner analyst Michael King told Wired.com. But as far as coverage and service, “once outside of those areas, most consumers may not see a big difference,” King says.
Jefferson Wang, a partner in the broadband consulting group IBB, said that while AT&T didn’t make big strides in its service rankings this year, next year could yield changes for the carrier. “With Sprint and Verizon loading iPhones off of AT&T’s network, AT&T’s services could get better in the future. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out in 2012.”