US Cellular is a regional cellphone carrier. It has the fifth-largest wireless cellphone and data network in the United States, behind Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. They have over 4 million customers in 426 markets in twenty-six states. When a customer wants to use their phone service outside of their home area, the service is “handed off” to another carrier.
- Wide array of phones available
- Many plan options
- Great coverage area
There were many good things that we liked about US Cellular's products and services. One of the things that we really liked was the availability of a wide array of phones. We found many different iPhones. We also found Android phones, Windows phones, and Blackberry products. We found that some contract carriers only had two iPhone models and no BlackBerry products. This gives customers a wide variety of options when it comes to choosing the product that is best for them. Another thing that we liked about US Cellular was the "other" products that they sold. These included iPads and Android tablets, cellular modems for laptop computers, and accessories that can be used on the road.
US Cellular has several different plans and services available for its customers. On its website, we found many different contract plans, the "Shared Connect" being the core of their contract services. US Cellular also offers no-contract phones, tablets with data connectivity, and other services for customers. US Cellular offers several different features that go along with contract phone service. For example, there is overage protection, which is free. However, the overage protection is in the form of a text message that is sent to the customer.
We also liked the coverage area provided by US Cellular. Their "Shared Connect" and 4G LTE plans work in all fifty states. One can go outside of their "home" area and still enjoy great service without being subjected to roaming charges. This is an important feature for those who want to use their phone while they are on the road.
We also liked the customer support experience available through US Cellular. US Cellular has phone, email, and a live chat support option. They do have hours from 6 am to 11 pm where they answer customer support issues over the phone.
We also liked the simplicity of the "Shared Connect" service that we reviewed. The Shared Connect plans all include unlimited minutes and texting. With non-contract phones and some other contract carriers, the user is often strapped to a certain number of minutes or text messages if they go with a "lower" service level.
US Cellular occasionally has great rebates for their clients. If they do have to purchase a phone with the plan they are using, there are often great deals in the form of rebates. US Cellular also has a good rewards program for its customers. Customers, as they go along using their phone, can earn rewards points by being enrolled in a rewards plan, referring customers, or attending device workshops. These points can be used towards phone upgrades and the purchase of accessories.
- Fine print
- Two-year contracts
- Cancellation fees
There were a few things that we didn't like about US Cellular. Included in the "fine print" is a service area stipulation. US Cellular reserves the right to terminate a client's contract if they use 50% of their coverage outside of their "home area." This is because US Cellular "brokers" some of their coverage from other network providers. We felt like this is not true "nationwide" coverage.
US Cellular offers two-year contracts on most of its basic and smartphones. The smartphones are subject to a heavy cancellation fee in order to ensure that the customer "keeps" the phone. US Cellular also offers "penny" phones, the most basic of phones for the user that wants to keep their service simple.
Also, we felt like the cancellation fees for contract phones with US Cellular were a little bit on the hefty side. Basic phone contracts come with a $150 cancellation fee and smartphones come with a $350 cancellation fee. We felt that this cancellation fee policy "straps" the customer into a contract for a long period of time. However, if a contract is a concern for a customer, there are "no-contract" options available.
Another thing that we were concerned with was the exponential price scale for higher-level data plans. We would like to see data plans that are user-friendlier for customers. The recommended data plans on Shared Connect often lock a family into a higher-end service level, but ensure that the family does not go over their data limit. There are also options on the phone that allow a parent or a decision maker to "lock" the data if they find that one particular line is being abused.
We also felt like US Cellular's website could be designed a little bit better. We felt like their Shared Connect purchasing feature made it painstakingly difficult to select devices for each line and we had to leave the purchasing feature in order to go see the catalog. Often times, a parent will want to select the same devices for each line. US Cellular should improve the overall design of this component of their website.
Some customers also reported some issues with billing and other problems. One customer reported receiving two bills per month after her original account was canceled. Another client had issues with a discount that they had been promised when they signed up. This discount repeatedly came off their bill after they called US Cellular customer support to reinstate it. Overall, US Cellular responded to its customer complaints reasonably and fairly, making sure that the customer received credit when necessary if billing issues arose.
The Bottom Line
We would recommend US Cellular under certain conditions. In order to avoid having your contract canceled, you will need to monitor your usage very closely and stay in your home area. You will also want to make sure that you read US Cellular's terms of services very carefully.