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Ditching your mobile phone carrier? Here's what lit your fuse

There's a strong streak of loyalty among mobile phone users, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. But that doesn't mean people lack for grievances.

So. How loyal are you to your mobile phone carrier? CNET

For some, it's the cost, and for others, it's the quality. Either way, there are clear patterns on why consumers jump ship from one mobile carrier to another.

Chances are, though, that as much as people may complain about customer service, that probably wasn't the cause.

Those are some of the findings from surveys done by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

As it turns out, switching carriers is the exception rather than the rule, CIRP said Thursday, explaining that almost four out of five subscribers stick with their carrier when they upgrade to a new phone.

In fact, the survey suggests that people are more likely to change operating systems or brand of phone than to say good-bye to their carrier.

Still, not all carriers command the same level of attachment.

"Loyalty varies somewhat among customers, with AT&T and Verizon maintaining the most loyal customers," CIRP co-founder and partner Josh Lowitz said in a statement. "Sprint and T-Mobile have somewhat lower loyalty rates."

AT&T and Verizon customers polled were happy with the network quality, though they though the plans are too expensive. T-Mobile subscribers contended that the carrier offers better pricing, but at the expense of network quality. And Sprint users surveyed said they liked the features of their plans, such as unlimited data and friends and family pricing.

Mobile phone carriers in the US have been hot to steal customers from their rivals while also retaining existing ones, launching aggressive promotions offering cheaper plans, more data and special discounts. Sprint, for one, has been on a tear with promotions spearheaded by new CEO Marcelo Claure that try to beat its rivals on pricing and the amount of data offered.

On Wednesday, AT&T unveiled a rollover program that will let new and existing subscribers carry unused data from one month into the next. That followed a similar announcement in December by T-Mobile, whose new Data Stash offering delivers a 10GB bonus on top of its rollover component. Both programs begin this month.

So given their predilection for loyalty, what convinces consumers to jump to a new carrier?

AT&T and Verizon lose subscribers, CIRP said, mainly because of the cost of the service but also because of the structure of the plans. More than 50 percent of customers polled who switched from AT&T or Verizon cited cost as the reason, compared with less than 40 percent for other carriers. Almost 40 percent of Sprint and T-Mobile subscribers said they left due to the quality of the network.

"Customers do not change carriers because of customer service," CIRP co-founder and partner Mike Levin said in a statement. "Based in either actual experience or perceived attributes, network-motivated switching accounts for almost 40 percent of Sprint and T-Mobile departing customers. These defectors are either dissatisfied with their current network or expect better connectivity from their new provider."

CIRP based its report on a poll of of 2,000 US consumers who activated a new or used mobile phone in the 90 days preceding four quarterly surveys that ran from October 2013 to September 2014.