The history of U.S. carriers visualized, or how we settled on the big four: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile

The history of U.S. carriers visualized, or how we settled on the big four: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile
After the last effort to completely overhaul the looks of the wireless carrier market in the United States failed with Sprint’s withdrawal from its attempts to acquire T-Mobile, we can finally know that for a certain period of time that we’ll continue living in a world of four big carriers: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

We've listed them in order of magnitude, starting with the largest, AT&T, with its 116.6 million subscribers in the US. The boost in AT&T subscriber numbers that put it in front of Verizon Wireless happened not too long ago when AT&T merged with Leap Wireless, and added its nearly 5 million subs. Verizon is the second largest carrier now with 104.6 million subscribers, and combined with AT&T, the two hold nearly two thirds of all US phone subscriptions.

Sprint remains on the third place, with 54.5 million subscribers, followed closely with the aggressively growing T-Mobile that now has 50.5 million users. T-Mobile got a huge boost in subscribers after it closed a merger with MetroPCS, a carrier with nearly 9 million subs of its own.

But how did we arrive at this current state of US wireless carriers? Where did it all start? It’s a complicated journey, with the foundations laid back in the days of historic names like ALLTELL, FLEETCALL, and MCCAW CELLULAR. See what acquisitions, twists and turns it took for us to arrive at the current state of the market right below.

Which mobile carrier are you using?

AT&T
23.29%
Verizon Wireless
23.96%
Sprint
12.48%
T-Mobile
26.41%
Another/I don't live in the US
13.85%

source: GigaOm

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37 Comments

1. BLUEBLASTER

Posts: 926; Member since: Feb 23, 2014

Can anyone tell me the average price of a phone contract in the US and what deals you get with it?

7. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

My guess is that the average price of a phone contract will depend on the amount of mobile data you need per month. For 3GB/month, my guess is $100/month along with unltd talk and text

23. volvoV70guy

Posts: 13; Member since: Jun 06, 2014

We pay $190 to T-Mobile for 2 phone EIPs ($20 each) and unlimited data, talk and text on both lines.

2. iCloud

Posts: 124; Member since: May 15, 2014

Wasn't La Cellular involved somewhere with Sprint? I remember air touch merged with Verizon (shows on map) but not la cellular with sprint.

4. iCloud

Posts: 124; Member since: May 15, 2014

3. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

It's a no brainer for me. T-Mobile is the best but I'm scared about getting 3G since I'm going to Ohio next week....

15. JDogg5281

Posts: 74; Member since: Aug 09, 2012

what part of Ohio are you going to? If you are coming to Cincinnati then yes you will be on HSPA 42.

16. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Sandusky for Cedar Point. 6 hour drive from here (Chicago).

27. mike2959

Posts: 694; Member since: Oct 08, 2011

Last time there it was 2G. No joke. Most of Ohio actually is 2G for TMO.. Unless in the actual city. Let me know if it has changed.

29. deago78

Posts: 170; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

That has indeed changed. EDGE hasn't come up on my phone in close to 4 years now in Ohio. So, yes, you will recieve 3G and 4G in almost every place.

20. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

That's why I have Verizon. I am never scared. I have 4G XLTE EVERYWHERE! You are scared cause outside of the big city (Chicago for you) T-Mobile service is spotty! With Verizon I get 4G XLTE in the mountains! Shoot I get 4G XLTE in the deserts of near San Diego also. Yes I travel quite frequently. Been East, West, North, South & all parts in between. Trust me, Verizon is King! No service is perfect I know this, BUT Verizon Wireless is the closest & not by a narrow margin, BUT by a HUGE Landslide! --Fact

22. Omarc07

Posts: 574; Member since: Nov 12, 2012

agree i have verizon (personal line) and att for work and im also never scared when i travel outside the city OF los angeles, when i go to vegas,arizona,san fransisco,san diego etc,,both att and verizon work great i been surprised how att has been expanding lte on the way to those places were as last year it had 3G HSPA,NOW verizon obviously it has lte in those places . lLike i said i been surprised at how att is catching up ,when i had tmobile it was a different story a frustrating one 2g EDGE or sometimes GSM on the way to those places it was pretty bad couldnt even load drivin directions sometimes were as on att n verizon i dnt have that problem anymore cuz they usually have lte

25. sniper1087

Posts: 537; Member since: Dec 31, 2011

there is a difference between 4G LTE and XLTE you probably see LTE no XLTE, I live in FL and have both ATT and Verizon and Verizon is LTE the speeds never reach the data speeds that ATT provides me, in fact I dropped a couple of times to 3G which is slower than any other 3G except for sprint which is slower than everything.

30. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

Verizon and AT&T have been battling each other for network supremacy for years. I'll give Verizon credit for being the first to have LTE and XLTE. I have AT&T and I'm satisfied with the network. I don't like the customer service, but as long as the network is as good as i've seen it, im ok with that I will have to make a decision about keeping AT&T after my contract is up in December.

36. andynaija

Posts: 1255; Member since: Sep 08, 2012

MetroPCS was actually the first carrier to have LTE in the U.S. I agree XLTE is Verizon though.

37. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

Oh, I wasnt aware of that. thx

5. emcdonald75

Posts: 160; Member since: Nov 07, 2012

I thought Verizon was the largest carrier with over 120 million customers? This shows that AT&T is the largest carrier.

6. darkkjedii

Posts: 30966; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

The jedii rocks AT&T. In Vegas Tmobile is horrible.

17. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

I'm thinking about applying to AT&T but their data caps piss me off.

19. darkkjedii

Posts: 30966; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Isn't Tmobile tiered now also, or do they still just throttle you after you go over? +1 on the data caps too.

26. sniper1087

Posts: 537; Member since: Dec 31, 2011

they throttle you, but they are offering 10GB of data for 100 a month compared to 160 on att.

34. darkkjedii

Posts: 30966; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Sweet deal in comparison.

31. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

I have AT&T and I don't like the tiered data plans either. I shouldn't have to check to see how much data i use everyday.

8. threed61

Posts: 259; Member since: May 27, 2011

I love what T-mo is doing to shake up the industry. I have a T-mo phone for a job, but still too often have to use my personal AT&T phone to connect.

21. darkkjedii

Posts: 30966; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Tmobile's new approach is awesome, in Vegas they just need more coverage. They're not giving enough LTE.

9. tokuzumi

Posts: 1865; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

Until recently, I had a personal prepaid line on T-Mobile. My work phone (now doubling as my personal device), is on Verizon. I kind of miss T-Mobile in my area. It's better than Verizon where I live/work.

10. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

Why couldn't they just use the standard colors for each carrier, instead of choosing their own? T-Mobile is yellow instead of Sprint? Sprint is red instead of Verizon? I suppose purple is the closest they could come to magenta, but then they used it for Verizon instead of T-Mobile? It'd be less confusing if they just used the standard colors associated with each carrier.

11. Berzerk000

Posts: 4275; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

Switched to Verizon from T-Mobile late last year. It's the only carrier that has any signal way out here in the deep, dangerous forests of northern Florida. Might end up switching back to T-Mo once I move out to California for college next year, just because I really like what they're doing and I miss the device flexibility of a GSM carrier.

12. Guti986

Posts: 78; Member since: Dec 26, 2013

The colors could've easily corresponded to the actual carrier colors, just saying. Seems like its missing a lot of history though.

13. joe1blue

Posts: 169; Member since: Jul 25, 2013

the government should have never let at&t acquire Leep wireless, and Cingular should have denied then also and probably a few others, i think of we still had like 5 major companies the prices for data would be much lower than they are now.

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