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U.S. Cellular: Everything you need to know

U.S. Cellular website
U.S. Cellular website (Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

When people talk about postpaid nationwide cell phone networks in the U.S. they usually mean the Big Four: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. But there is a fifth company who offers full-service nationwide contract plans that are as good or better than the bigger corporations: U.S. Cellular.

Even though U.S. Cellular is a smaller company, it partners with other providers to offer great coverage nationwide. If you were looking for an alternative to the other carriers or simply want to try something different, U.S. Cellular can be a great option.

Let's have a look at what you need to know.

Great nationwide coverage

U.S. Cellular coverage map November 2019

Source: U.S. Cellular (Image credit: Source: U.S. Cellular)

U.S. Cellular offers good voice and LTE coverage in the continental U.S. Coverage maps aren't the best way to gauge service for any one particular area, but they can give a good indication of the overall network footprint. All things considered, this is a strong coverage map and the majority of Americans should be covered.

There is a very good chance that you'll have good U.S. Cellular coverage if you're in the States. As always, make sure you have coverage (opens in new tab) before signing up.

Reciprocal roaming and rural coverage

U.S. Cellular uses what it calls "4G LTE Data Partner Coverage" for a good chunk of its service area. This means it has an arrangement with another company to use its networks in areas where there's a need. Your U.S. Cellular phone will work seamlessly in these places and you won't even know there's a difference. It also doesn't cost you anything extra when it happens. In addition to agreements with AT&T and Verizon, U.S. Cellular partners with King Street Wireless for deployment of the 700Mhz LTE band in 27 states.

This means U.S. Cellular has the same type of great coverage in rural areas that AT&T and Verizon offer. You can look here (opens in new tab) for an interactive map that shows where partner coverage is located.

Does it have 5G?

U.S. Cellular 5G logo

Source: U.S. Cellular (Image credit: Source: U.S. Cellular)

U.S. Cellular continues to show that it means business. The carrier announced that it would begin deploying 5G service to many of its towers in early 2020.

U.S. Cellular is deploying 5G on its low-band 600Mhz spectrum. While 5G at this lower frequency won't be able to hit some of the fast speeds seen on high-band 5G deployments, it should be a significant improvement over 4G LTE. U.S. Cellular is pulling this off by upgrading its towers to support both 4G LTE and 5G on the same equipment. This allows the carrier time to get the fiber backhaul updated, which allows for better speed and consistency on LTE as well.

There are data plans to fit everyone

U.S. Cellular has moved its postpaid plans to an unlimited format, with features such as HD streaming and hotspot data to separate them. The top two unlimited plans also have a feature called Payback which credits your account if you use less than 3GB per month.

Unlimited Plans

BasicEverydayEven Better
Unlimited talk and textyesyesyes
Video quality480p720p1080p
Mexico/Canada roamingnone500MB
100 minutes
100 texts
1GB
200 minutes
200 texts
Payback (under 3GB)none$5$10
Hotspotnone15GB30GB
Priority daranone25GB50GB
Free redbox rentalnone1 per month2 per month
1 line$55/line$65/line$75/line
2 lines$52.50/line$62.50/line$72.50/line
3 lines$38.33/line$48.33/line58.33/line
4 lines#30/line$40/line$50/line

All plans come with unlimited talk and text messaging, have no extra monthly connection fees, and there is no activation fee or ETF for service cancelation.

Prepaid plans

5GBUnlimitedPay-As-You-Go-Data
Data5GBUnlimited$0.03/MB
Talk and textunlimitedunlimitedunlimited

Unlimited talk and text to Mexico can be added for $5 per month. There is also a multi-line discount of $10 per additional line.

U.S. Cellular also offers corporate plans, data-only device plans, and complete business solutions that include automation and asset management in addition to communications.

Popular phones are supported

Pixel 4 XL lying on a red picnic table

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Like most carriers, you can purchase a wide variety of phones, including high-end devices like the Pixel 4 (opens in new tab) and Galaxy Note 10 (opens in new tab). You can see all available phones on U.S. Cellular's website (opens in new tab).

You can also bring an unlocked phone. You can double check that it's compatible with U.S. Mobile by using the compatibility checker (opens in new tab).

Best U.S. Cellular phones

When all is said and done, the most important factor when you're looking for phone service is the coverage. U.S. Cellular looks good there thanks to both the native network and the partner programs. The company also has a good reputation and has won numerous awards for customer service and community outreach. We think you should give it a look the next time you're shopping for a new phone company, especially if you're done with the Big Four.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.

11 Comments
  • "US Cellular had 10x fewer subscribers than number four Sprint" I'm not a fan of using the "[x] times less than" style of comparison. Shouldn't you just say "one tenth as many subscribers as Sprint" or "10% of..." etc?
  • Yes.
  • U.S. Cellular was great when we used them before they abandoned the St. Louis area a few years back.
  • Apparently King Street Wireless coverage is within spitting distance of non-existent in Indiana. I never get a usable US Cellular signal on Fi even when I try to force switch to it. #5 needs to try harder, or maybe look for a better partner.
  • I really wish Sprint would buy them out, it would make them unbeatable in much of the Midwest.
  • No thanks. We don't need Sprint.
  • 2G on AT&T or Verizon no longer exist. As a Fi user US Cellular is great in much of Wisconsin. Fi had me on TMo in Maryland. I tried a forced switch to US Cellular with poor results. With TMo buying up the huge amount of the 600 spectrum I think US Cellular will need a merger (Sprint?) to survive beyond the next few years.
  • I've been on US Cellular since the mid 80's. It has the best coverage, by far, in my area. My first phone was the Motorola DynaTac 8000. For me their customer service has been outstanding, but they are not the best when it comes to releasing updates. My GS7E is still on the December 1st security patch. Just a side note; I got my first phone from them shortly after they opened a new office in my town. They let me choose my own number from a large list of available numbers in a range. (The last five digits of my phone number are sequential.) Those were the days.
  • I've been with US Cellular for 15 years now and have never regretted it. Well except when the original Droid came out and I couldn't have one. :-)
  • Hey! That's the Desire Eye - a big part of me wishes HTC made more phones like that one.
  • Was on us cellular for years and had no complaints until they started messing with their billing system. They wouldn't bill for 2-3 months then send you one for 600$ and get upset that the customer was upset. After they did that aboutb3-4 times to me because they were changing their billing system I'd had enough and switched to Verizon. Us cellular works as well and in some areas better than Verizon even though they are both cdma carriers. There are areas where Verizon is better but it's a toss up. Plan pricing is fairly similar as well