J.D. Power says Verizon tops in call quality

Verizon Wireless once again gets singled out in semiannual survey. Also highlighted: overall call quality throughout the industry has become stagnant.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Verizon Wireless has the best wireless service in terms of phone call quality in many parts of the U.S., according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released today.

The semiannual study measures wireless call quality based on seven factors: dropped calls; static/interference; failed call connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification. About 26,000 wireless subscribers were surveyed between July and December 2010.

For the 13th consecutive reporting period, Verizon Wireless ranks highest in the Northeast region. Verizon Wireless also ranks highest in the Southeast, Southwest, and West regions, according to the latest survey. And in the Mid-Atlantic region it's tied with AT&T for first place.

Regional wireless operator U.S. Cellular ranks the highest in terms of call quality for the 11th consecutive reporting period in the North Central region of the U.S.

J.D. Power assesses call quality performance in six regions: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, North Central, Southwest, and West.

Results from this survey should come as little surprise, since Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular often score high in terms of customer satisfaction. Verizon, in particular, has built a strong reputation around the quality of its voice network.

"When we say we offer Verizon Wireless customers the nation's most reliable wireless network, we mean it," David Small, vice president and chief technical officer of Verizon Wireless, said in a statement. "These awards are a demonstration of our company's commitment to invest in our network: more than $6 billion annually; as well as the dedication of Verizon Wireless employees who plan, engineer, build and maintain our nationwide network. We remain committed to continuing our investment for our customers, both in our 3G network and in our 4G LTE network that we are rolling out across the country."

In case you were wondering about the best area of the country for talking on your cell phone without interruption or dropped calls, J.D. Power's survey found that call quality was the best for customers in the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh metro areas. It was worst in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

In addition to finding out which wireless carriers have the best service quality and where, J.D. Power's survey also highlighted that overall call quality throughout the industry has become stagnant. In general, one would expect carriers to improve call quality with time as they add more capacity throughout their networks. But what J.D. Power found is that across the entire wireless industry in the U.S. call quality is not getting any better.

"Shifts in wireless phone usage, including smartphone and texting use, as well as an increase in the percentage of wireless calls being made and received inside buildings, has led to a halt in overall call quality improvement," the company said in a press release.

Indoor cell phone use and the rise of the smartphone matter because they could be the reason why consumers aren't experiencing improved phone call quality. Cell phone subscribers calling from indoors typically have more problems than those who are calling on cell phones from outside. Depending on a user's proximity to a cell tower, signal strength can be very poor indoors.

What's more, J.D. Power also found in its survey that wireless subscribers using smartphones typically had more issues with phone calls than people using traditional cell phones. So as more smartphones are sold, more customers are experiencing issues with call quality, which is also helping to offset improvements that could have been made as a result of carriers bulking up on network resources.

Carriers are addressing the indoor coverage issue in part by using femtocells, which provide radio signals in a small area and then connect that radio to a broadband network to route the calls or data over a wired Internet connection. Some carriers are now selling femtocells to "boost" wireless signals indoors.

The smartphone issue is a bit trickier to solve. The fact that smartphones also increase the amount of data on wireless networks doesn't help things either. In some cases, depending on the network technology used, increased data usage on the network can affect voice services, resulting in some calls being dropped when data usage is high. Wireless operators are struggling to keep up with demand for more data services on their networks.