Q. How does the service and coverage compare for the smaller wireless carriers like Consumer Cellular, TracFone and others that never get mentioned because it’s always the same big networks like AT&T and Verizon getting reviewed?
A. While AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon do indeed grab most of the attention, many of the smaller wireless carriers actually get their network service from one of the Big Four and resell it, often in the form of low-cost or prepaid plans. (U.S. Cellular is the fifth largest carrier in the country and mostly uses its own network.)
A smaller company that rents space on a larger network is called a mobile virtual network operator, or M.V.N.O. Although you may have to dig around to find an M.V.N.O.’s web page or contract to identify the host network, once you do, you can get a better idea of the service and coverage in your area. You can also just check the WhistleOut site’s helpful list, which matches up an M.V.N.O. with its partner carrier.