Abstract In this paper, we examine the wave propagation in a piezoelectric coupled cylindrical shell affected by the shear effect and rotary inertia. A complete mathematical analysis of wave propagation solution in this piezoelectric coupled cylindrical shell is provided. The dispersion characteristics are derived through the solving an eigenvalue problem. Results are validated by the classical solution of a metallic cylinder. Besides providing and discussing the dispersion curves for different wave modes, we also examine the piezoelectric effects on the dispersion curves. Further to the above investigation, comparison of dispersion solutions from different shell theories is also conducted. This work may serve as a benchmark for wave propagation in piezoelectric coupled cylindrical shells.