Apple 2.0

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How callers rate the carriers

March 9, 2010: 7:00 AM ET

Verizon leads the pack. AT&T is No. 2. T-Mobile and Sprint bring up the rear

There's bad news for Apple (AAPL) and not such great news for Palm (PALM) in a BrandIndex consumer survey published Tuesday by YouGov. Both firms originally tied their cellphones to exclusive U.S. carriers -- AT&T and Sprint, respectively -- neither of which scored particularly well in terms of quality, value and customer satisfaction. (Palm has since added Verizon as a carrier; the iPhone, alas, is still exclusive to AT&T.)

Every weekday for the past 12 months, YouGov interviewed 5,000 Americans from an online panel of 1.5 million. For this survey, respondents were asked to rate the four major U.S. cellular carriers on a scale of +100 to -100 on three criteria:

  • QUALITY: "Is it high quality or low quality?"
  • VALUE: "Does it give good value for what you pay?"
  • SATISFACTION: "Are you a satisfied customer?"

The results, averaged over the past year, look like this:

Source: YouGov's BrandIndex. The margin of error is +/- 2%.

Verizon (VZ) was the clear winner in terms in terms of consumer perception, with AT&T (T), T-Mobile (DT) and Sprint (S) bringing up the rear. According to YouGov, size has something to do with it.

"Verizon and AT&T are the two largest service providers in terms of subscribers in the U.S., so it is no surprise that they lead the wireless pack on consumer scores," said Ted Marzilli, global managing director of YouGov's BrandIndex service in a prepared statement. "At the same time, all the major competitors rate lowest on Value, indicating that consumers are not as convinced that they are getting a good deal from any of the major players, and that should be a point of concern for them."

YouGov reports that the map wars campaign Verizon launched last fall was a "big positive" for them, a finding most visible in the "satisfaction" fever chart below. AT&T, meanwhile, took a big hit in "value" and "satisfaction," although it's shown some gains in "quality" in recent months.

8-week moving average. Source: YouGov's BrandIndex

8-week moving average. Source: YouGov's BrandIndex

8-week moving average. Source: YouGov's BrandIndex

Looking more closely at February's data, YouGov analyst Lance Fraenkel says you can even see the effect of the recent Sprint ad campaign in which CEO Dan Hesse promotes Sprint's talk and data plans as more inclusive than its competitors'. Using a 2-week moving average, the chart below shows Sprint's "value" rating getting a bump in early February, while AT&T's falls into negative territory, a significant drop (15 to 20 points) below its yearly average.

2-week moving average. Source: YouGov's BrandIndex

See also:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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