Hawaii is home to almost 1.5 million people, and the island chain sees another 10 million or so visit there every year. With these numbers in mind, it is no surprise that all the major networks have undergone projects to provide excellent cell service along all the islands in the chain. Even though the island is far from the mainland, it still manages to deliver fantastic cell coverage on all major carriers. Questions? Good! Read on for detailed information about:
- Best cell phone coverage in Hawaii
- Cell phone coverage for living in Hawaii
- How MVNOs fit into the equation
Best Cell Phone Coverage in Hawaii
Hawaii’s island coverage is surprisingly strong, given how remote it is. Comparing Hawaii to, say, Alaska shows tremendous differences. Hawaii has two major advantages that have driven all the major networks to undertake building projects and bring their high-speed service to this island paradise. Let’s take a dive into what each of these carriers brings to the table!
All four major networks have a presence in Hawaii. They have long since constructed towers and networks around the state in order to become excellent choices for those living there and visiting there alike.
Verizon has a strong network in Hawaii. Covering almost 90% of the island’s total area, Verizon users have cell phone coverage whenever they are in the range of Verizon’s cell towers. Of the four major carriers, Verizon has one of the strongest networks in Hawaii. Since Hawaii is such a big travel destination, Verizon and many other companies are happy to create fast and reliable networks all throughout the island.
T-Mobile has a decent network in Hawaii. Their cell towers cover around 70% of Hawaii’s total area, giving good coverage in all of the densely-populated zones. T-Mobile is currently working on upping their coverage of the islands as these islands receive a ton of travel throughout the year and they want to make sure that their customers are happy to travel to Hawaii with a T-Mobile plan.
Of the four major wireless networks, Sprint has the least coverage on this island. They cover around 60% of the island’s total area with their cell towers. While this may seem like pretty spotty coverage they have congregated their cell towers along the most-traveled areas. Their coverage on the beaches and in the forests may fall behind the other wireless companies, but there’s something nice about being unplugged from your wireless network when you are sitting on the beach with a mai tai in each hand!
If you are planning on spending a lot of time outside of your cell phone’s service, there are alternative options to staying on the grid so you can get in contact with someone if anything untoward happens on your travels. Our favorite alternative method of communication is a satellite phone, which we will get into later!
AT&T has a strong network in Hawaii. Covering almost 95% of the island’s total area, AT&T users have cell phone coverage whenever they are in the range of AT&T’s cell towers. Of the four major carriers, AT&T has the most coverage of Hawaii’s total area. Since Hawaii is such a big travel destination, AT&T and many other companies are happy to create fast and reliable networks all throughout the island. AT&T provides the strongest 4G LTE coverage across the islands, closely followed by the other companies.
MVNOs have the same coverage as the major networks in Hawaii! The towers constructed by the major networks dish out the same service to MVNO holders, letting you rest easy knowing that you’ll have amazing cell phone coverage in Hawaii basically regardless of the service you currently have. Once you know where your Hawaiian travels will take you, we recommend checking out what your specific coverage is in those locations! It will be easier to confirm the state of your coverage once you know which islands you will hit.
Tip: Prepaid Plan on a New Carrier
A lot of carriers, MVNOs especially, have very cheap prepaid plans that are limited talk and text with just a smidge of data. These plans could run you less than $10 for a month and could be a great way to supplement your major phone plan while you are basking in the sun and storms of the beautiful Hawaiian islands.
If, for instance, you are a T-Mobile customer and you know one island where you’ve picked out this beautiful AirBnB is covered by AT&T and not T-Mobile you could grab a prepaid plan from AT&T or one of their many MVNOs so you can stay connected while you are away. A small prepaid plan is also nice because it limits the time you will spend on your phone. If your normal plan is unlimited data on a new smartphone, getting a cheap phone with limited use can help you unplug and enjoy the vacation!
5G Cell Phone Coverage in Hawaii
Cell phone companies are on plans to switch their old and busted 4G LTE coverage out with the new hotness that is 5G technology. 5G networks run at crazy fast speeds, and as the nation’s coverage switches to this new speed 4G LTE will become a thing of the past. Hawaii is no exception to this new coverage. At this point, T-Mobile is the only major network that has any 5G coverage in Hawaii, but stay tuned for updates from the other major networks as they all race to apply for 5G coverage in every area that they can.
At this moment, the technology that makes 5G happen is very limiting. While T-Mobile does offer 5G coverage, they are not able to hit the truly lightning-fast speeds that 5G offers. Current technology cannot send 5G signals as reliably as 4G LTE, so most networks are sticking with that for the moment.
Living in Versus Traveling to Hawaii
In Hawaii, the networks are so strong that there is no undisputed best network from which to receive your service! The good news is that even if you are moving to Hawaii we do not foresee you needing to change your service if you are moving to a common destination. If you are taking up residence in one of the lesser-traveled islands then it would pay to see if there is one network that has as few towers out there to provide superior coverage over all the others.
One Hundred Thirty-Seven Islands
Hawaii the state comprises 137 islands. There is no easy way to cover every one of these islands, so expect less-traveled spots to have little to no connection in them. There are six major Hawaiian islands, and the best cell phone coverage in Hawaii is centered around those islands. They are Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii. If your travels take you to those islands you can rest easy knowing that, whatever provider you have, they will maintain a strong signal coverage along those islands.
If your island stay involves a lot of hiking, boating, and traveling along the lesser-populated islands then you might run into some trouble with the connection. We recommend researching what areas of your visit might have less connection beforehand so you can enter prepared.
As a Hawaiian visitor, you are free from any roaming charges because you are still considered a domestic traveler! All of the major networks consider that a part of their domestic network and do not charge extra for data used in that location. You don’t have to worry about getting any add-ons, either! Your normal plan should include the same benefits in Hawaii. We do, however, recommend double-checking with your provider before you go! It pays to avoid any unpleasant surprises on your amazing upcoming vacation.
Living in Hawaii?
If you live in Hawaii and are unsatisfied with your coverage, you should check the coverage maps of all the major networks to see if there is one that covers your location better than all the others. If so, then switching to that one is a good option. Otherwise, you can always be on the lookout for new construction planned in your area, but there are parts of Hawaii that are not well covered due to the mass of islands that make up the state. You can always set up a strong Wi-Fi network around your home to stay off your mobile network while you can. Many phones are now offering Wi-Fi-based calling and texting, allowing you to call and text on stable and secure lines, even if your phone isn’t getting great service.
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)
Mobile virtual network operators are the names given to all of the phone companies (of which there are many) that operate through another major company's network. The major networks in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, T Mobile, and US Cellular. The major benefit of MVNOs is lowered costs while the major downside is that the major network’s customers get priority during times of high bandwidth usage which results in slower speeds for MVNO customers at that time. If you are living in Hawaii and are looking to get hooked on a very affordable plan that still has awesome cell phone coverage, check out this section about all things MVNO!
Over the years, MVNOs became a very popular and viable option for getting a quality phone plan. This section will discuss how they work as well as some pros and cons of using an MVNO instead of a major cellular network.
How Does an MVNO Work?
An MVNO is a phone company that supplies phone plans but does not have a network of its own. MVNOs piggyback off of existing cell phone towers of one or multiple major network providers. Some use one major network but others, like Google Fi, utilize multiple networks depending on where they have the best coverage. This will result in customers either getting assigned a network based on where they are located, or, with certain devices, switching from network to network based on which one is fastest where they are.
MVNO customers have access to the same high-speed network as customers of the parent network, but since the parent network’s customers are prioritized, sometimes their cellular runs slow.
Example MVNO — Cricket Wireless
Cricket Wireless provides phone plans with AT&T’s network, providing comprehensive network coverage all over the nation and fast speeds almost all the time. At this time, AT&T has fewer MVNOs on its network than either Verizon or T-Mobile.
Cricket benefits from AT&T’s network while continuing to provide cheap phone plans to its customers. To combat their deprioritization, Cricket has capped the streaming speed while using data in order to lessen their overall impact on the bandwidth. This lessens the chance that they would ever face that big fear of MVNOs — that they are getting deprioritized because so much data is being used, resulting in slow cellular data until things quiet down.
Pros of MVNOs
The big pro of an MVNO is that they can offer cheaper plans than major carriers. Alongside that, MVNOs are able to operate in a different sphere. AT&T is competing mainly with Verizon and T Mobile for its customers while MVNOs are competing with other MVNOs. In terms of service, there are not too many differences between getting your cellular plan through an MVNO and getting it through one of the major providers.
MVNO phone plans are so cheap because they don’t have to run their own network. They can focus on providing high-quality and affordable plans with all of their perks and incredible multi-line discounts since they are an MVNO and not a major service provider.
Alongside that, MVNOs are not a new kind of service provider. They have provided great service to lots of people for decades, making them a reliable source of affordable phone plans.
Cons of MVNOs
The major con of using an MVNO is the deprioritized service. When a major company is under stress from high data usage, the MVNOs are the first customers to experience a slowdown in internet speeds. Of course, this does not affect Wi-Fi speeds, just the speed of your cellular data.
MVNOs also do not always support the wide variety of different phones that are supported by major carriers. You can check the MVNO website for a list of the phones that they support.
Spotty Cell Phone Coverage
Hawaii’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. The 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 and visits Hawaii.
Major networks boast near-complete cell phone coverage in Hawaii that gives the great majority of Hawaiian residents high-speed data. The problem is, however, that there are many Hawaiian islands where there isn’t much population. There are beautiful hiking trails that extend for miles and miles with no cell phone tower in sight. Mountains, valleys, and beaches 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 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 Hawaii!
If you are planning a hike out into the beautiful nature-filled and serviceless areas of Hawaii, 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.