Coverage

The Ultimate Guide to Alaska Cell Phone Coverage

By
Kyle Reyes
November 4, 2022

Alaska, with its unbroken, beautiful wilderness is a sight to see. It is, however, disconnected from the United States, huge, and sparsely populated. Because of this, the cell phone networks have not covered the landscape as they have in the mainland USA. Towns are often hours apart and the state boasts a size of two Texas’ put together, leaving hundreds of miles of roads with people living few and far between. 

This article will cover Alaska’s cell phone coverage. Read on for information about:

  • How the four major networks fare in Alaska
  • GCI, Alaska’s own network
  • GCI plans 

Alaska Cell Phone Coverage by Major Networks

Alaska’s beauty is stunning. Make sure that you have cell phone coverage in Alaska to capture these awesome moments! 

For the four major networks, Alaska’s cell phone coverage is pretty low. Remember that Alaska has a ton of low to no-population areas where cell towers would not reach many people. Verizon and AT&T have built their networks around the most populated regions of the state. Before we go any further, are you looking for coverage because you are moving to Alaska, or are you visiting? If you are moving to Alaska the coverage will be very important because, well, you’ll live there! If you are traveling there on vacation or to visit family keep in mind that even if your service is spotty it will only be for a few days! Without further ado, let’s get into Alaska cell phone coverage by the major networks! 

Verizon and AT&T

Verizon and AT&T’s Alaska cell phone coverage is very spotty. Verizon covers about 2% of the total area of Alaska whereas AT&T covers about 11%. This might not seem like a lot, but they’ve focused on covering as much of the population as they can rather than trying to extend their coverage into the lush forests, mountains, and valleys of this state. 

If you are visiting Alaska, Verizon and AT&T provide adequate coverage for most populated areas, but you might run into trouble if you venture off the beaten path. If you are, say, going on a long hike through the woods there are alternative methods of staying in contact with the rest of the world, like satellite phones, that might be a worthwhile investment. Keep your eyes open, as both of these companies have plans to extend their coverage in the state. 

If you are moving to or already live in Alaska then these major carriers are not your best bet when it comes to phone service. There is a local network that’s Alaska-only and it provides better coverage than any of the major providers! 

Sprint and T-Mobile

Neither Sprint nor T-Mobile has a network in Alaska, but they do have roaming agreements with GCI! If you have cell service with one of these providers you may incur roaming charges when you head to Alaska, but you will still have service! You’ll want to ease off on your most recent Netflix binge and podcast streaming until you’re back on the mainland, but you’ll be able to text and call with no problems! 

These networks, like the other two major networks, are fine if you are traveling to Alaska to visit but become problematic if you are living there. 

Key Takeaways

Alaska's cell phone coverage is pretty sparse compared to the mainland United States. The towers are centered around the towns and cities of this large state, leaving large swaths of land with spotty or no coverage. If you are visiting then any of the major networks will provide you with a fair amount of cell phone coverage, but if you are planning on living in Alaska then their small networks are the way to go. 

GCI, Alaska’s Own Mobile Network

GCI is a mobile network that’s focused on Alaska. They have been in business for over 40 years and they are hard at work providing connectivity and service to those in the more remote parts of the country. While the bulk of their network resides in Alaska, they have roaming agreements with major networks so their cell phones continue to function in the wider United States. GCI boasts coverage to 97% of Alaskans as they have focused their efforts in the population centers of this large state. 

What does GCI Offer?

GCI is Alaska’s primary telecommunications company. They provide cell service, internet, and cable coverage across their network and have long provided those services to Alaska’s population centers. Before we get into GCIs mobile plans let’s take a look at their internet and cable offers. 

GCI Internet

GCI has four internet plans. The first three, aptly named fast, faster, and fastest, provide a significant amount of high-speed data at a fair cost. Their fast plan offers 200 Mbps for $80 a month, while their fastest plan offers 800 Mbps for $155 a month. They also have a monumental fourth tier that’s called 2 GIG Red Unlimited which provides 2 Gbps for $180 a month. 

Two gigabits, for reference, is enough internet to power a medium-sized company! While the plan is largely overkill, it is a testament to their dedication in providing excellent service in areas including Alaska cell phone coverage and beyond. 

GCI Cable

GCI provides a lot of customizability with their cable plans, allowing their users to pick and choose the plan that works best for them. Through these deals, users are able to get the channels and services they need. Sports fans, for instance, can make sure they get all the channels to watch their favorite sports. 

A popular alternative, however, comes in the form of the streaming services like Roku and YouTube TV that have appeared recently. These services allow users to watch anywhere, anytime. 

GCI Mobile Plans

GCI has two major kinds of phone plans. They have unlimited plans and prepaid plans. These plans work to bring the best 5G coverage to Alaska that they can, and the company is always looking to improve its coverage and connection speeds. One unique aspect about this company is that its network is concentrated around such a small area that they are able to give it a ton of attention. 

Major mobile networks cover the continental US. Verizon, for example, accesses around 13,000 towers and 4,000 rooftop sites all across the United States in order to provide quality service across so much land. With a monumental network like that, whenever they want to make a change it has to be a big one. GCI does not have those same limitations! Since their personal network only covers Alaska, they operate many fewer towers and, because of this, are constantly renovating and upgrading areas to provide the fastest connection that they can. Without further ado, these are the plans offered by GCI!

GCI Explore

  • First line — $60 a month
  • Second line — $40 a month
  • Third to the tenth line — $20 a month

All of GCI’s plans have two kinds of data. They have Unlimited Market Full-Speed data and Extended Market data. You can find more information about what areas are unlimited and what areas are extended markets on their website, but the unlimited market is generally their higher-population density areas and the extended market are the less populated areas of Alaska. Their Alaskan cell phone coverage is good in all of these areas, but it is better in unlimited market areas. 

GCI’s explore plan comes with no data prioritization. If you are using their mobile data in a time of high demand, yours will be the first one to be throttled. It does come with unlimited talk and text, and a bit of hotspot data as well. For $60 it is not a bad plan at all! 

GCI Peak

  • First line — $70 a month
  • Second line — $50 a month
  • Third to the tenth line — $20 a month

Next in line is GCI’s peak plan. The first and second line are $10 up from the previous plan. For that money, you get 50 GB of priority unlimited market data, which is awesome. Alongside that, you get more extended market data before your speed is throttled. This plan comes with 8 GB of high-speed extended market data while their explore plan only came with 4 GB. 

For only $10 extra a month this plan is absolutely worth the upgrade! You gain access to so much extra data that you can casually stream video and audio without worrying about your data speeds falling to near-negligible amounts. 

GCI Summit

  • First line — $85 a month
  • Second line — $65 a month
  • Third to the tenth line — $20 a month

GCI’s third-tier plan packs a lot into the $85 a month you spend on your first line. You get 100 GB of unlimited market data, 30 GB of hotspot data, and the ability to stream “Super HD” video on the go. This is an amazing plan if you are someone who will get good use out of that data, hotspot capabilities, and streaming. The extra $15 a month that goes into this plan on your first line is a good price for the hotspot data and extra GBs of high-speed mobile data, but if you aren’t using it then we recommend staying on that second-tier plan. 

GCI Apex

  • First line — $95 a month
  • Second line — $85 a month
  • Third to the tenth line — $45 a month

Their fourth and final tier is named GCI Apex. With this plan, you get unlimited high-speed data and 50 GBs of high-speed hotspot data. This plan is for the people who stream video for hours every day or spend their days in a house without Wi-Fi. Before switching to this plan we recommend going a few months on a lower-tier plan and seeing how much data you are using. If you run out halfway through the month then a switch to a true unlimited source of data is a good plan, but you may find that 50 GBs or 100 GBs of data is all you need on a month-to-month basis!

GCI Prepaid Plans

GCI prepaid plans allow users to get their plan a month at a time with no contract in sight. This is a great option for travelers if they want to take advantage of GCI’s superior network in Alaska instead of roaming on their wireless company, or making use of the major networks that have towers populating Alaska. 

GCI Multi-Line Savings

You may have noticed that each of these plan descriptions started with “first line, second line, etc.” That is because GCI has built-in multi-line savings from the beginning! Every single plan has a discount on the second line and a huge discount on the third line and then every line after that. If you get this service with your family or even if you find a few friends and go in on it together, then you can save big on your mobile phone plan every month. 

Alaska Cell Phone Coverage — Key Takeaways

There are a lot of beautiful trails, mountains, and valleys around this state. Check to see if you have cell phone coverage before you set out on a trip!

After making it through all of GCI’s plans and their competition, how are you feeling about Alaska's cell phone coverage? Hopefully, you feel like a pro! Even though it is pretty remote, there is a lot that you can do with either a major network or GCI, their very own network! Here are a few key takeaways from this article, plus a little bonus info for everyone who makes it to the end! 

Visiting Versus Living in Alaska

If you are visiting Alaska, all you need to do beforehand is check your provider and make sure that they have a roaming agreement or a network in Alaska. Your data will likely be slower than what you are used to where you live, but you will still have service in cities and towns as well as your journey through this awesome state. 

If you are moving to or living in Alaska, GCI is your best bet for Alaskan cell phone coverage. Their coverage far surpasses the major networks that have taken up residence there, and they offer great deals on a lot of high-speed data that will let you keep service in all of the major areas of the state. 

MVNOs Work Too! 

If you use an MVNO for cell service, you will have the same coverage that you would have were you using a major network! Just like major networks, however, make sure to double-check before you enter the state that your company has towers or a roaming agreement with a network up in Alaska. 

Spotty Cell Phone Coverage

Alaska’s cell phone coverage does not create a network over the whole state, so it is wise to keep an alternative form of communication with the outside world if you are planning on venturing into the unknown. Before we get into that, cell phone coverage is great if you are in a populated area. Both GCI and major networks have prioritized these population centers as places where their networks are strong and able to connect with just about everyone who lives in Alaska. 

GCI boasts cell phone coverage that gives 97% of the residents of Alaska high-speed data. The problem is, however, that there is a ton of Alaska where there isn’t any population. There are beautiful hiking trails that extend for miles and miles with no cell phone tower in sight. Mountains and valleys, with rivers running between them, don’t lend themselves to cell phone coverage like cities and towns do. There are other ways, however, to stay connected, and one of them is with satellite phones! 

Satellite Phones

Satellite phones are phones and other devices that operate through a network of satellites that orbit the earth. One of the largest companies is called Iridium, and they have worked hard to launch a grid of satellites that allow people anywhere in the world to have access to cell phone service. It is very expensive, and it is not the high-speed service to which many of us are accustomed, but satellite phones allow you to send text messages and make calls from anywhere on the globe, including Alaska! 

If you are planning a hike out into the beautiful nature-filled and serviceless areas of Alaska, an Iridium satellite phone and phone plan could be a great companion to your travels. They also offer mobile hotspots so you can stay connected with a few more items in your travels. While Iridium’s mobile hotspots do allow you to connect devices to a mobile network the speeds are glacially slow, so you won’t be able to do a lot of the tasks you are used to on a 3, 4, or 5G network.

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.