Prepaid vs. Contract Wireless Quality & Coverage

by John
(Tampa, FL)

I've had T-Mobile for 5 yrs & when inquiring to customer service I was told that there is a definite difference in the coverage & quality & service of prepaid vs contract. Do you know what they are referring to or have you heard anything to that effect to assist in making a decision. I'm a sales person who relies on a good coverage & good quality reception, but saving money is also very important.

Comments for Prepaid vs. Contract Wireless Quality & Coverage

Click here to add your own comments

Jul 24, 2021
Great Point NEW
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Yes, that's a fantastic analogy. Even amongst the prepaid brands the priority level designation can be different. For example, MetroPCS vs. T-Mobile Prepaid vs. T-Mobile Magenta vs. other T-Mobile plans. Even though they're all under T-Mobile. And a T-Mobile MVNO may be higher or lower priority than even the T-Mobile owned brands.

This is called the QCI level. You can Google it, but it basically defines the priority. Usually data on prepaid lives around QCI7, but can also be QCI9.

That said, with 5G capacity, and depending on the population and overall congestion, you may not personally ever notice the difference, particularly if you're not live streaming at moments of deprioritization.

Jul 24, 2021
Simple and 100% accurate answer NEW
by: Mike

It mostly comes down to priority. Think of it like a VIP line at a hotel check-in, or anything where they let "preferred status customers" cut in line. If there is no line, it makes no difference whatsoever, but as soon as there is a line, that's when it makes all the difference in the world. If you live in a big city, then prepaid probably has its moments that it sucks.

Jan 02, 2020
Quality NEW
by: Lee Dye

Well... I've been a Verizon customer for 24 years, and do post pay, billed at the end of the month. I've never had any problems, Always great service and great signal strength. I work as a General Contractor & a Musician. If I'm not at work I like to travel, concerts, camping, hiking, fishing etc.. They get an A+

Aug 30, 2019
Switching from Verizon pre- to postpaid
by: JH

I switched my family from postpaid to prepaid on Verizon to save money. Same phones, same locations, etc. Service is HORRIBLE by comparison. I live centrally located in West Los Angeles, and I'm getting LTE with one bar a lot of the time. Ridiculous.

I was careful to ASK the rep when I was switching if there's any difference in service. I told her I don't want to get throttled, etc. She assured me, no difference. B.S.

If it doesn't get better soon, I'm switching.

Oct 25, 2018
VZW Prepaid vs Postpaid (Standard Plans) NEW
by: Anonymous

I work for an MVNO Prepaid Company which uses Verizon Network. Verizon Prepaid and all MVNOs use ALL of Verizon Towers, and ALL have the same coverage. The only difference is that Prepaid does not use Verizon roaming partners towers. These are companies who own the cellular license generally in rural areas. Verizon customer on Postpaid plans roam onto these non-Verizon towers, there just unaware of it. And they are not billed for "roaming". We offer plans which will allow per min rates or full access to the Verizon Roaming Partners for $5/month. Many Verizon Dealers will tell customers that there is a difference. They are lying to you. If an VZW Agent disagrees, ask them to provide you a written statement and sign it verifying what the differences are. They won't!

Oct 23, 2018
Lies everywhere NEW
by: Anonymous

Im tired of being told theres no difference. Each rep gives you a different answer... WHY

Sep 17, 2018
there has to be a difference NEW
by: T.Morgan

My only option is Verizon or Straight Talk. Im so far out. So I switched from ST to Verizon prepaid. Ok, they are suppose to work off same towers, so why is prepaid verizon worse?? I switched because ST doesn't allow you to use a hotspot off your phone. I dont know what to do now.

Sep 16, 2018
Verizon Prepaid = Less Coverage NEW
by: Anonymous

I just spoke with Verizon Customer Service (September, 2018). They confirmed that the prepaid plan has access to fewer towers.

In the rep's own words:
"with the postpaid plan you may have access to 10 towers in an area, the prepaid plan might only have access to 6 towers."

What's the point of paying for the Verizon network, if you aren't going to get access to it?

May 08, 2018
Prepaid vs Contract NEW
by: Mark_S

I have had all carriers on both Prepaid,and Postpaid.
Best Postpaid: Verizon
Best Prepaid: AT&T

Apr 11, 2018
Prepaid NEW
by: Johnny Rizzo

I was with Tmobile for 10yrs.Started losing data coverage for 10m on I5 in Wa. State.Switched to Verizon prepaid and problem solved.Tried Simplemobile to cut cost.Terrible Data and Cell coverage.Purchased BYOP SIM CARD.Found out no refund policy.Back to Verizon and never leaving.

Nov 27, 2016
Prepaid vs. Contract With Verizon
by: Jeff a Trucker

I have not had contract service with Verizon in quite some time; very expensive. So I switched to another carrier, prepaid. Had miserable coverage. Switched to Verizon Prepaid. Coverage is OK here in the Midwest.

My issue is they seem to have issues with allowing me to receive calls. I keep having to have to call to get my phone plan reset. And I'm told the speed of prepaid data is slower than that of contract. And trust me, mine is very slow, and rather unpredictable with use as a mobile hot spot.

Pricing is higher than other carriers, but I was looking for the best coverage. It's still annoying to not receive my calls. Especially when I'm holding the phone in my hand and it goes to voicemail.

Sep 14, 2016
Obama Phone Better Than Verizon Prepaid
by: Anonymous

I am an over the road trucker who thought prepaid would save me money, and thought Verizon was the top of all carriers. WRONG!!

Nationwide my grannies fanny. It's doesn't work in Franklin, KY, West Lake, Utah, Quanah, Tx, Columbus, Ga, Decatur, Ga...Just too many places in this Nation to name!

A Borrowed Obama phone we tried has worked in all these places. Can you hear me now? Sure, but not on Verizon!

They keep wanting to rest the PHONES. That's right, PHONES... I have a Verizon Note 3, 4, and LG Prime, all of which keep the no network available feature active. LOL.

I have to keep switching from Global to LTE/CDMA every time the roaming triangle replaces the 4G icon, and forget making calls; CAN YOU SAY DROP. Verizon CAN trust me!

Sep 09, 2016
Verizon is definitely...
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

....a pathetic loser in the prepaid market! At some point they'll need to beef up their prepaid program and meaningfully compete. However, at this point it's very clear that they value postpaid much more, and are barely treading water when it comes to their prepaid offers.

Sep 09, 2016
Prepaid Customer
by: Anonymous

I have prepaid service through Verizon with one of their verizon prepaid phones. It is an HTC desire. I compared phones with the sales person, and if this is the best they have as far as antenna and reach they are doing pretty bad in the prepaid category.

Signal strength is forever crappy. I'm constantly dropping calls wherever I am, and I'm unable to use the internet. I'm definitely leaving to Metro and no renewing with Verizon next month. I'd suggest ditching Verizon prepaid. There are much better carriers out there.

Aug 04, 2016
T-Mobile Coverage
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

According to their coverage map on their website, they don't differentiate by plan type. I've found that's the best way to decipher which carriers have different coverage depending on plan type.

Aug 04, 2016
Pre-paid Versus Standard
by: Anonymous

I was wondering the same thing; does pre-paid have access to less towers than standard?

I spoke with a girl in tech support about 10 minutes ago. She resides in the Philippines and she told me as far as towers are concerned there is no difference between pre-paid and standard, and that T-Mobile does not distinguish between pre-paid and standard. All I can go by is what she is telling me.

Jul 20, 2016
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Thank you for sharing your experience! No doubt they also get compensated more for selling you a postpaid plan!

Prepaid coverage can differ in that 3rd party roaming partners are typically not included as they are on postpaid. However, as you noted, unless you live, work, or travel regularly to one of those fringe areas, you're never going to notice a difference.

So, while the rep was technically accurate, for all intents and purposes, the difference is likely immaterial to most city dwellers, and it was really a useless sales pitch to benefits themselves, and not out of any real concern for your value or general needs.

It's awesome that you stood your ground!

Jul 20, 2016
A T-Mobile sales rep today told me prepaid and postpaid services are different
by: Anonymous in Tampa, FL

Today in the T-Mobile store, a sales rep (emphasis SALES) tried to tell me that T-Mobile's cell tower coverage was less for prepaid than for postpaid.

I didn't believe him and I asked him to prove it. To show me something in writing from T-Mobile that indicates this is the case. Because, to me, it just seemed like a sales tactic this guy was using to get me to switch from my cheap $30-a-month prepaid plan to a postpaid plan with less features for $50 a month.

I still see no evidence from anything written here that coverage is different, unless I was in a rural/fringe area, which I am not. I often get LTE coverage here in Tampa.

May 23, 2016
prepaid cell phone
by: Anonymous

My wife's prepaid cell phone is hard to receive calls inside my daughter house in Plymouth,ma. On my cell phone from safe link wireless does not work at all inside my daughters house or in the yard outside. my question is does a contract phone receive a better signal than a prepaid inside a house which is better.

Jun 29, 2015
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

My experience is that the voice quality on most networks these days is pretty much equal. It's more about the nuances of the phones, their antenna quality, speaker quality etc. In terms of coverage, Verizon is known to have some of the best coverage, however, you should compare their coverage maps with other providers, and in terms of where you work, live, and play.

Personally, I don't think that Verizon's supposed quality and coverage is worth getting on their crappy prepaid plans. There are just too many other competitive options out there. Why bother with a carrier that doesn't take prepaid seriously?

Jun 26, 2015
How Is Quality of Verizon Prepaid Service in Terms of Voice Quality and Coverage?
by: Anonymous

I am considering Verizon prepaid, does anyone has experience with it. I currently have prepaid with another large carrier the quality SUCKS.

Jul 14, 2014
Please Clarify
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Thank you for the question. From what carrier are you bringing the prepaid phone from that you want to activate with T-Mobile?

Generally speaking, unlocked phones (prepaid or postpaid) from another carrier may not always function properly for all services on other carriers due to the firmware on the phone. However, they can usually be flashed with the proper operating system of the destination carrier.

Jul 14, 2014
Prepaid Phone vs. Contract Phone
by: Anonymous

I called T-Mobile to see if I could use a prepaid phone on my plan. He stated that maybe not all of the services will work because of the software. is there a difference between the exact same phones?

Mar 10, 2013
Another Perspective
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Being contractually obligated is certainly one valid perspective. However, consider another perspective. Postpaid carriers have you locked in for 2-3 years. I don't think anyone besides a team of lawyers can really understand what quality of service they're contractually obligated to provide.

On the other hand, prepaid carriers must provide service that's good enough to keep people happy enough to continue paying month after month. If not, customers will churn (i.e. leave for another carrier) anytime they want, as they don't have any contract binding them to stay.

Verizon has particularly good coverage in rural areas, however, I've used a myriad of postpaid and prepaid carriers, and in my experience, while quality and coverage can vary, the technology these days is so evolved, and coverage is so good, that for all intents and purposes, the differences can be arguably negligible for the average (non-super rural) person.

Mar 10, 2013
Prepay vs. Postpay with The Big V
by: Anonymous

PREPAY- They have your money and are not contractually obligated to provide quality service. POSTPAY- means they are under contract to provide the best possible service. I have both with Verizon and PREPAY is a joke when it comes to coverage areas and quality of service. Once again they already have your money and are not legally contracted to provide service at all for that matter. Makes good money sense to them, sucks for the consumer.

Nov 17, 2012
Prepaid is second to contract
by: Anonymous

If you have a contract you will get priority serive. A prepaid customer or a third party customer (straighttalk is an example of third party) will get booted from a network if the network overloads. I found this out when I spoke to an att rep. I never could connect to the internet with straight talk in my local Rural area. The answer was the networks were overloaded and those with contracts had priority. So I wasted funds for a service that was poor.

Nov 06, 2012
Plan Limits
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Each T-Mobile plan has a specified allowance of 4G data, after which the speed is reduced. The small print notes that full speed is available up to the data allotment, then slowed up to 2G speeds. It really should say "slowed down to 2G."

Anyway, if you're experiencing a slow down prior to consuming your data allotment, then we have a problem; if not, that's pretty much the status quo across all carriers these days.

Nov 06, 2012
T-Mobile Prepaid Is Different
by: Anonymous

They say 4G service but this is not for prepaid service. The month starts off at 4G and diminishes throughout the month to 3G, and finishes at 2G. Everything is turtle slow at the end of the month.

Jul 06, 2011
Prepaid Wireless Coverage
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

Hmm...that's interesting. Do you have any friends who work in your building that have Sprint that you can test? You may be on the Cricket network in that area, or perhaps roaming on Sprint. You may in fact be roaming on MetroPCS. As these are roaming partners, you wouldn't see a roaming indication on your phone.

If it works outside just near your building, I'm thinking that you're either very unlucky and your building happens to be in a dead spot, or your floor is in a dead spot (despite no building obstructions). It may actually me your phone. Particularly if you're in a fringe coverage area, some phones are better at holding onto a signal than others. Having to wait 5-10 minutes to reconnect outside sounds really odd. If you turn your phone off then on, does it connect quickly?

Sometimes when a phone determines it's out of coverage it will power down to save battery, and only retry occasionally (ex. 5-10 min). That might explain what's happening to you.

Anyway, if you do end up trying another prepaid wireless carrier, testing it in advance is definitely a great idea!

Jul 06, 2011
Criket w/Sprint network
by: JACK

I had left my carrier (Sprint) to go with Cricket to save some money. At home and outdoors the phone worked fine and i was able to make calls. The only problem that I had was at work. I work in an office building and while inside i had no service whatsoever. No phone calls, no texting, no web!! Mind you i sit on the first floor near windows, and no thick walls to possibly block my signal. In order to use the phone, i had to go outside and wait anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes for my phone to find and connect to a tower. It was the reason i left Cricket after 3 days. I dont understand why this issue was since I have friends who have cricket and have no complaints over it. I currently have T-mobile but am considering going to Boost mobile for the same reasons (saving money). But before porting over my number I will get a line with whatever number to try out the phone at work.

Oct 14, 2010
Prepaid Wireless vs. Postpaid Wireless - Part 1
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

As more and more people are starting to consider prepaid wireless as a real viable option (even though they may qualify for postpaid), this question is being asked more and more. There ARE differences that people need to consider.

Before I address the differences, I will say, however, that with respect to call quality, there shouldn't be a difference. While I have heard of carriers in the past talking about using different compression rates for prepaid, which would effectively reduce the call quality (ex. make it sound more tinny or distant), I'm not aware of any carriers that are doing this. If anyone has first-hand knowledge to the contrary, definitely please share it with us.

In terms of the differences, here are some things to consider:

1. Coverage is typically different. Postpaid carriers, no matter how large they are (ex. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) still do use other carrier networks in areas where they don't have great (or any!) coverage. While they're constantly building out their networks, setting up roaming agreements is often more profitable for them in certain regions where population density tends to be lower.

Currently every postpaid carrier that I know of that also offers prepaid, precludes prepaid customers to only using their own network. i.e. Prepaid wireless customers are not allowed to roam on these third party networks. Some used to charge extra for it, however, most these days don't even allow it.

Not only is this a cost management strategy, but is also enables them to draw a distinction between prepaid service versus the so-called more valuable postpaid service.

Prepaid carriers that aren't in the postpaid business at all (ex. MetroPCS, Cricket, etc.) should in theory be able to offer nationwide coverage as widespread as "the big boys," however, as they are trying to keep costs down in order to provide lower plan pricing, they often don't have as good coverage. Of course, they're also continually building out their networks.

An interesting example is Cricket, who earlier this year signed a roaming agreement with Sprint (they use the same technology). They may have better coverage than Boost or Virgin customers on the Sprint network by virtue of now having Sprint coverage along with their own native coverage; however, they too are NOT allowed to roam on Sprint third party networks.

So, the bottom line is that coverage is different for prepaid vs. postpaid, and you should definitely check their coverage maps to see if you're covered in areas where you work, live, play, and frequently travel. That's true even for postpaid, b/c you could be on an excellent network like Verizon or Sprint, and live in an area that has crappy (for lack of a better word ;-) coverage.

Oct 14, 2010
Prepaid Wireless vs. Postpaid Wireless - Part 2
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

2. Handset selection is also another difference you'll find. Although Verizon recently announced the availability of many of its high end smartphones on prepaid, not all handsets are allowed on prepaid, and the cost is considerably higher. This gap will continue to close over time.

3. Features. Some providers will offer more features on their postpaid plans than on their prepaid plans. Back in the day things like call waiting, voicemail, and call display used to not be offered on prepaid! Now, of course, all basic features are typically the same, but there are still some differences. Again, these differences are rapidly evaporating. Particularly with the advent of prepaid Android smartphones and the like, features are tied more and more to the phone and operating system rather than the carrier itself. For example, turn by turn navigation used to be a carrier-only provided services, however, Android or BlackBerry users can download free apps like Google Navigation on their prepaid phones. That said, many prepaid carriers offered carrier hosted navigation anyway; i.e. there are sometimes differences to consider, but these differences are quickly disappearing.

I know you only asked about quality and coverage, but I thought I'd elaborate a bit for others who may be considering prepaid wireless.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Prepaid Wireless Questions.

Be Heard!  Let prepaid wireless providers know what you want; fill out the survey now.

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.