AT&T has a reputation for having a hole or two in its coverage net. Additionally, the carrier is not allowing FaceTime calls over cellular unless customers sign up for a shared data plan (which has all of your AT&T devices pulling from the same allotment of data), making a switch to Verizon or Sprint tempting.
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However, sticking with AT&T does have its advantages. Perhaps you're grandfathered in for an unlimited data plan from the early iPhone days, or maybe you just want to use data and voice at the same time - an exclusive feature of AT&T's GSM network.
Well, AT&T customers, should you stay or should you go now?
How does AT&T do?
The good news is that AT&T's LTE is as fast as advertised, and achieves true 4G speeds. Downloads on an iPhone 5 were blazingly fast, when compared head to head with an iPhone 4S in midtown Manhattan.
It was advertised that LTE would be faster than WiFi in some cases. In our tests, this was only partially true. Granted, the average download speed of 10Mbps of the iPhone 5 on LTE was much faster than the 6Mbps produced on the iPhone 4S on HSPA+, but the former was still crushed by a personal WiFi network with 20Mbps download bandwidth.
Uploads were a different story. Again, the iPhone 5's 6 Mbps easily bested the iPhone 4S's paltry 1Mbps. As for a home network, it too could only do a little over 1Mbps uploads.
Talk and surf, simultaneously
Many have stated that AT&T's LTE speeds lag behind Verizon's, despite the smaller coverage footprint (though not by some super significant degree). While such claims are largely anecdotal at this point, and results will vary block by block in almost any circumstance, one can't ignore the advantage that AT&T has long enjoyed over both Verizon and Sprint: the ability to talk and surf the web at the same time.
It's a feature that AT&T is justifiably proud off, and remains a serious source of frustration for the other side. After all, there are more than a few Android handsets on Verizon and Sprint that can allow both functions simultaneously. For many, it's the sole reason stay with AT&T.
Plans & Features
When it comes to paying for such coverage, AT&T users have reason to be upset and confused.
Individual plans start at $39.99 a month for 450 daytime minutes, plus 5000 nights and weekend minutes. On the opposite end of the spectrum is an unlimited plan that has all the daytime, nighttime and weekend talk time that you could want for $69.99. Add $20.00 for unlimited texts.
When it comes to individual data plans, $20.00 will get you a paltry 300MB, with each additional 300MBs worth of data at the same rate. Most new customers will likely gravitate towards the $30.00 a month rate for 3GB, with an additional $10 per GB. Next you have 5GB plus a Mobile Hotspot option for $50.00, which also charges $10 per each additional GB consumed.
But remember, FaceTime over cellular is only available if you sign up for a Mobile Share plan. The baseline package is $85.00, which includes unlimited voice and messaging, but only 1GB worth of data. The plan also only covers just a single line; each additional (up to 10) is $45 a month per iPhone or $10 per iPad.
There's also a $110 per month plan that serves 4GB worth of shared data, with additional lines costing $40, and a $125 per month plan, with additional lines costing $35.00. Not exactly a bargain on any account.
The iPhone 5 experience on AT&T is by no means perfect. At the very least, it beats the 4S or any previous iPhone. 4G LTE speeds deliver as advertised.
Still, many longtime AT&T users eager for a change might be tempted by Verizon, particularly the offer of FaceTime sans WiFi and shared data plan, and a much larger LTE footprint. Sprint is a contender as well, and provides much easier to swallow plans, though its coverage is not nearly as wide as the other guys.
As is, it's hard to recommend that AT&T users to stay put, but its one ace in the hole - the ability to maintain a voice call and surf the Internet at the same time - can't be dismissed. Even those with the greatest incentive to leave, i.e. the desire to conduct FaceTime over cellular without being forced into a shared plan, may still want to stay.