#4 U.S. Cellular – They are the fifth largest wireless telcom network in the U.S. They have about 4.8 million customers in 426 markets in 23 states. They are headquartered in Chicago. Their advertising shtick (at least in rural areas like Wisconsin) is a riff on Verizon Wireless’s “Can you hear me now” campaign. They are trying to make their brand around the idea that if you are in the middle of nowhere you can get a signal with them.
They have a funny commercial where they have two guys running from a bear in the middle of the woods and the guy claims because he has U.S. Cellular he has a 4G LTE signal. They finally raise their hands up to pretend they are a tree and the bear runs right by them. Here is the commercial for reference.
To test their claims we have 3 people on staff that have U.S. Cellular and live in very rural areas in Wisconsin and Michigan. They use the phones everyday and issues are logged. Our findings were consistent with their claims of good service in rural areas. In fact, there are many areas in Wisconsin, and the Upper penn of Michigan that get a 0 bar read or a 1 bar read with Verizon Wireless and AT&T that U.S. Cellular gets a 2 bar signal with a 4G LTE connection.
Where they lose points is Network Speed, and Customer Service. They have a 1 star ranking at Consumeraffairs.com based on 95 ratings out of 478 reviews. (95 people out of the 478 actually selected a star, some just wrote a review and didn’t select one). The largest complaint on their site seemed to revolve around being charged for data overages inaccurately. We did not experience this issue at all, but it is alarming to see that many complaints about it. Our staff made some limited faux calls to their customer service department and experienced long wait times and staff that either didn’t have the ability to fix the faux issue, or were simply not trained well enough to identify the issue. On several occasions our staff were sent to 3 or 4 different customer service people before they got an answer that satisfied the problem. U.S. Cellular’s customer service team was only able to satisfy problems that were called in 17% of the time.
When we did a survey of our readers who used U.S. Cellular the top reason (73%) our readers selected U.S. Cellular as a provider was that it was the only service provider that worked in their house or area. (Because it was a rural area with spotty coverage). Only 5% of our readers indicated that they were U.S. Cellular customers because they were satisfied with their service, and 85% of those readers had never had to interact with their customer service or were new customers. 43% of our readers that used U.S. Cellular’s service did not like how long they had to wait for the latest phones to be available on the network.
For those reasons they were 4th on our list of Top 5 providers.