AT&T Review: How Can Hitting More Bars Actually Be Less Fun?

15 March 2017

ATT carrier review

AT&T’s like the guy your parents wished you’d go out with: sensible, successful and resolutely dull. 

Famously known for 'more bars in more places', AT&T is the wireless carrier built for not letting you down, which also means not getting you too hyped up (we're looking at you T-Mobile).

As one of the nation's largest wireless carriers (number two, behind Verizon) AT&T has been around for decades. True American staying power. 

As a brand, AT&T is synonymous with Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. As such, it is affectionately also known as 'Ma Bell'.  AT&T's corporate longevity is due in part to their consistent ability to deliver usable products to customers: AT&T's wireless service is wholly reliable and the coverage is universally impressive across the US and now into Mexico.  

AT&T's arsenal of cell phone towers are everywhere and offer true towers-standing-behind-cacti-in-the-middle-of-the-Mojave omnipresence. AT&T is not the fastest in the market, but if it is the breadth of coverage that counts, then AT&T is on message with 'more bars in more places'.

RootMetrics has consistently ranked AT&T at a very close #2 behind Verizon in their total network coverage and reliability score. And rightly so. AT&T invests billions into their wireless network every year. Between them, Verizon and AT&T hold the majority of corporate telecoms accounts, based solely on the fact that corporations need reliability and connectivity more than anyone. No sales pitch was ever won with the words "Can you say that again? You're breaking up."

Ok, mom and dad might have been onto something...this guy's going to deliver --- on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. AT&T is nothing, if not Mr Reliable. 

Going with AT&T, your coverage bars will light up. But, you can also count on AT&T's high prices and flat features. For years, AT&T hasn't offered much more than tiered data plans and a few snore-like features like international calling and texting. T-Mobile and Sprint have been bouncing around as the teenagers of the industry, trying to shake things up and tear walls down. AT&T has stood silently as the mature adult telling shareholders, "It's the coverage, stupid."

However, times are changing, as AT&T has begun to innovate with their bundling of DIRECTV with an unlimited data plan--which is also offered as a stand-alone to customers as well. AT&T's bundling plans usually tend to couple one unnecessary option to another, like roadside assistance and extra cloud photo storage but this new addition offers both price savings and the convenience of watching your favorite TV shows on your phone without burning through your data. A word of caution though, as with all confusing bundling plans, it's all about reading the fine print. 

When it comes to new phones, AT&T's phone payment plans have confusing (if not deliberately misleading) names, i.e. Next 24 Plan which lists the early up-grade device date instead of the full contract payment period. 

In addition, AT&T doesn't do much as far as presentation to demystify its muddle of plans and options.  Navigating its behemoth website, try to find a family plan, and you'll likely to veer off into their cable TV or internet offerings. Needless to say, deciphering one phone payment plan from the other can be as much fun as untangling a mass of earbuds chords left in the junk drawer too long. 

  • large selection of premium smartphones
  • impressive speeds, average of 10 Mbps nationwide 
  • strong coast-to-coast coverage in both rural and urban areas
  • great value on international voice and texting
  • small selection of budget phones available
  • high prices, added costs on bills abound, including monthly taxes, surcharges and initial activation fees
  • customer service is spotty and often poor 
  • website is difficult to navigate, presentation of large number of plans, features and options confusing
Value for Money
Coverage & Speed

The AT&T Story Today

AT&T got its start defending defending Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patent rights in 1874 as the Bell Patent Association. This is not a company created by a couple of daring people in a garage out to disrupt an industry. AT&T is the industry. 

AT&T's list of firsts include: 

  • the first transcontinental phone call between New York and San Francisco, 
  • the first transatlantic phone radio, the first hiring of telephone operators (which incidentally were teenage boys who worked on telegraphs) 
  • the invention of the first transistor which is the building block of all digital products. 

At various points in AT&T's history, it's been the world's largest telephone company, cable television operator, and a regulated monopoly. Their storied past of epic corporate mergers (and ensuing anti-trust FCC litigation) continues as AT&T recently acquired DIRECTV, the second largest pay-TV provider in the country. Also, AT&T recently orchestrated a $85 billion merger with Time Warner, the home of HBO and CNN.

The acquisition of DIRECTV has the most potential to transform AT&T into a quadplay powerhouse. A quadplay is the unsexy industry term for being able to offer you home phone, internet, mobile and TV in a single package. 

AT&T began, of course, as a fixed line telephone company (your old home phone) but now most people now prefer to stream their TV instead of channel-surfing live. AT&T subscribers potentially have a lot to gain from their double and triple play bundles and the DIRECTV bundle is pretty attractive. 

Current mobile trends suggest more people are considering prepaid carriers in part due to their affordability (especially with family plans), and transparent out-the-door price structuring and lack of credit checks. However, AT&T has things covered there also (as part of their acquisition strategy). AT&T's recently acquired and newly renovated prepaid subsidiary Cricket Wireless offer customers lower monthly cell phone plan prices than their parent and easier-to-understand mobile plans. In fact, Cricket is beautifully priced for value and includes a perfectly transparent 'all-in' price where there are no additional taxes or charges levied on the user. Cricket Wireless uses all of AT&T's towers to deliver solid coverage, simply with a data speed cap of 8Mbps (unnoticeable to average cellular users). 

The AT&T story is everywhere. Its mobile, Satellite TV, internet and even pre-paid.And now with the TimeWarner merger, it may be CNN and HBO. So, keep reading as you need to know more about the omnipresent behemoth AT&T. 

How AT&T Compares on Pricing

When comparing the two largest networks in the nation, AT&T and Verizon, in terms of value for your money, they're about equal. Both have strong, broad and well built out LTE networks with fast speeds. Both tend to be the priciest of the Big four, especially among family plan options. 

AT&T and Verizon's pricing is based simply on the idea that if you want the best, you need to pay for it. T-Mobile and Sprint are challenging this perception every day, but back at AT&T Headquarters, that's the policy. 

By offering plans that in most cases are not directly comparable, AT&T and Verizon have made picking between them a challenge. Verizon though offers a more straightforward device purchase plan while AT&T's financing choices are confusing to differentiate between early upgrade options. When you get down to it, not much separates the top two cell phone companies in the nation.

Also, AT&T does not offer switching carrier promotions, and its price incentives tend to promote new bundling features. 

AT&T Single Line Comparison

Carrier Single Line with at least 6GB data Pricing
6GB, Unlimited Talk & Text $80/mo
Verizon 8GB, Unlimited Talk & Text $90/mo
Unlimited Data, Unlimited Talk & Text $70/mo
Unlimited Data, Unlimited Talk & Text $50/mo

The downside of being with a large carrier is that you often lose the simplicity and straightforward pricing the smaller carriers offer. As previously mentioned -- and it's worth mentioning again -- navigating AT&T’s website is difficult, and the names of the plans and descriptions are often confusing. Their bill format is lengthy. and like all major carriers (excluding T-Mobile from Jan 22) AT&T's plan prices do not include taxes and surcharges  which can add an additional 17% in costs to your bill.

But for the regular customer, the most confusing part of the process is the additional line fee charge. If the data plan you want is $50 then you will need to pay an additional $20 device access charge to access it, putting your plan at $70/mo. 

Like most carriers, AT&T does have a prepaid option, its GoPhone Prepaid. Great if you want to skip the credit check, and pay for your device up-front with both new premium brands and certified like-new options. However, no surprise here. The plans tend to be pricey with few features and limited data options in comparison to all the better-priced options the smaller carriers' offer. 

AT&T's Coverage is Ocean Size

Most people will tell you that AT&T's got great coverage, and they're right. They've been a forerunner in the telecommunications technology for a long time and lead the other carriers in mobile patent filings.  Considering they were the first  to utilize transatlantic phone cable, they know a thing or two about the infrastructure keeps our cellular coverage bars lit.

Wish that I was Ocean Size

The sheer scale of AT&T's built-out infrastructure makes coverage reliable whether you are in urban or rural areas. While most of the major city markets are well covered across all four major carriers, AT&T's coverage will give you the best odds of getting solid reception on those country roads. Think of it this way: if you want to make a call from anywhere, AT&T's a great option.  

RootMetrics scores (quarterly scores given by an independent agency that tests carriers’ speed and performance across the nation) routinely put AT&T neck and neck with Verizon. AT&T is consistently #2 in the nation, and the percentage difference between the two is very small. Strong coverage is strong coverage, and with either carrier you won't likely be running across the street shouting "Can you hear me now?" 

Another thing to consider is the other half of the coverage equation, your phone. If your phone's an older model, it may not have the technology to connect to the latest 4G LTE frequencies from AT&T and as a result will not receive the best signal.

Coverage Comparison

Verizon 97.5% coverage & reliability score
AT&T 96.3% coverage & reliability score 
T-Mobile 95.1% coverage & reliability score
Sprint 93.9% coverage & reliability score

Things to Consider with AT&T

AT&T are starting to realize that to stay competitive, they're going to have to do more than just stand there flexing their coverage muscles. With AT&T you are not going to get the most innovative plan features; however, the ability to stream from your DIRECTV subscription to your cell phone and to not incur data charges (zero rating) is a step in the right direction. 

1) AT&T has a massive amounts of WiFi hot spots

There's no shortage on free public WiFi, but unless it's secure it's probably not a good idea to partake. AT&T gives you access to more than secure 40,000 nationally and over 200,000 internationally 4G LTE secure WiFi hot spots so you can send files or shop online without worrying or draining your cellular data. Locations include airports, retail stores, restaurants, hotels, stadiums, convention centers, universities and popular businesses such as Starbucks, McDonald's, Barnes & Noble, and FedEx offices. The hot spot feature is included in qualifying data plan pricing or available as an add-on feature for additional charge.

Also, AT&T's Smart Wi-Fi  app will help you find and auto-connect to available hot spots, save your battery's life by turning on WiFi only when needed, and help you keep track of your cellular and WiFi data usage. 

2) Data Free TV 

For those that have the double play bundle of both DIRECTV & wireless, you can stream your DIRECTV channels on your mobile and it doesn't not count against your data allotment.  Be aware that the programming is not ad-free and requires an active AT&T postpaid data service on an eligible device.

3) Stream Savers

Once activated, the Stream Saver feature allows you to choose to stream videos on your mobile at DVD quality (480p) to save you data. There should not be any discernible change in picture quality on a mobile phone.

How Much Should You Expect to Pay

Unlimited Data 


Prepaid $0.25/min; $2/day Compare
Postpaid From $50 (1 GB) Compare
Want to contact  AT&T?

Twitter @ATT
Sales, Customer Care, Billing, Tech Support
1-800-331-0500 (Monday to Friday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday to Sunday 7 a.m.-10 p.m. )

Contact Page
Apps iPhone, Android

WhistleOut Staff Review

Chris Holmes
Associate Editor at WhistleOut in California
Has been an AT&T for 2 years
“Excellent coverage”


I was coming off a contract with Sprint and looking for a carrier that provided better coverage to the place I was living at the time (Oahu, Hawaii). I happened to be visiting my folks in Hailey, Idaho, where there are two cell stores—Verizon and AT&T—and they are right next to each other. There was a line in Verizon, and nobody in AT&T, so I signed up with them.


I’ve been very pleased with AT&T’s coverage, both in Hawaii and in San Diego, where I live now. However, I’ve experienced some frustration over both overages and international charges. Even after the company did away with overages in their current plans, I had to call to find that out on my own, and switch over to one.


I love the coverage. It’s been solid everywhere I’ve gone. 


AT&T’s plans are among the most expensive out there—their full-strength unlimited plan, for example, is $10 more expensive than Verizon’s, and $20 more expensive than T-Mobile’s. I’d like to round up AT&T's executives and implore them to get more competitive with their pricing. 


I’d recommend AT&T to folks who are experiencing coverage difficulties with their current carriers. 

AT&T no longer has data overages. Your speed is slowed once you have reached your data allotment until the next bill cycle. You may need, however, to opt-into this feature.
Yes, you can always keep your number when switching to a different provider.
AT&T has strong coverage in both rural and urban areas.
AT&T offers 3G, 4G LTE and LTE Plus coverage in all the United States.
Depending on where you want to call, it could cost an extra $5-$15 /month. Some plans have this feature included.
Some plans have this feature included. Otherwise, as an additional cost, with AT&T Passport for a month you can can have talk, text & data in over 200 countries.
About AT&T...
iPhone SE

AT&T in one of the big four cell phone carriers in the United States with a massive customer base and huge network footprint across the U.S. 

  • Where to Buy: Online, in-store, over the phone
  • Bring Your Own Phone: If you have an unlocked GSM phone and your phone supports AT&T's LTE bands, you can bring your own phone to AT&T
  • Locations: AT&T's network and services are available nationally. AT&T's headquarters are in Dallas, Texas
  • Tethering: Customers can use their AT&T plan as a mobile hotspot, though usage is specific to each plan. Unlimited plans on AT&T have a hotspot cap of 10GB per month. 
  • Network: 4G LTE network using band 17 and band 5 (700Mhz, 850Mhz), band 2 and 4 (1900Mhz, 1700/2100Mhz). Many MVNOs (smaller carriers) also use the AT&T network. AT&T also supports HSPA (3G) & (3.5G) HSPA+.
  • Coverage: AT&T consistently ranks #2 in network coverage tests.
  • Prepaid: AT&T's pre-paid brand is call GoPhone -- AT&T also owns Cricket Wireless.
  • Taxes & Fees: AT&T will charge state taxes and fees on top of your monthly cell phone plan cost.

Fact: With over 147 million customers in the US and Mexico, AT&T is one of the largest wireless providers in the world. AT&T also owns Cricket Wireless. Take a look at AT&T's current wireless dealsAT&Ts phone line-up, or our review of AT&T


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