Thread Number: 73953  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Question About Cell Phones and Carriers
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Post# 977021   1/5/2018 at 18:23 (193 days old) by RP2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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I'm not sure if I'm facing a dilemma or not.  I'm shopping for a smart phone.  I'm caving into friends and relatives who regularly forget that I don't own one and continue to send me things that my phone is either bad at or can't open at all.


So, I know that there are two platforms:  GSM and CDMA.  While GSM is predominant everywhere but in the U.S., service over that platform only comes from AT&T, and T-Mobile uses AT&T's network.  There are incidental carriers that also use AT&T's network, such as Consumer Cellular.


Other than that, CDMA rules, and I'm currently with Verizon.  I'm contemplating switching carriers because Verizon has become very expensive for how I use my phone, which is about 90% texting and 10% voice service.  Zero data or non-hot spot wi-fi.


The phone I'm looking at is designed for Verizon's network.  If I should buy this phone and later decide to switch, perhaps to Consumer considering that I don't rely on my cell phone to get me through life, is there a process for converting devices from one type of platform to another?


If not, then I need to switch carriers first.  Any advice would be appreciated.



Post# 977024 , Reply# 1   1/5/2018 at 18:48 (193 days old) by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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The problem is that if a phone is designed for a given network it will probably be locked to that network. It may be possible to get it unlocked...but again it may not. Even if possible, it might cost money.


There are unlocked phones out there. IIRC, there are phones that can be used with either GSM or CDMA. (Obviously something that needs to be verified for a specific phone before buying!)


I also may be wrong about this...but I think T-Mobile has--or at least used to have--it's own network. I recall that AT&T wanted to absorb them, and one the reasons I heard (which may have been speculation) was to get additional, compatible infrastructure.

Post# 977027 , Reply# 2   1/5/2018 at 19:07 (193 days old) by RP2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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I fully expect a competing carrier's sales person to advise me that sure, I could bring my phone over with me -- even though he or she knew perfectly well that I couldn't.  The wireless marketplace is like the wild unregulated west, and sales forces are ruthless.


I wasn't sure what "unlocked" meant, but have seen the phone I want listed as "unlocked" on ebay, which might indicate that it can be used for either GSM or CDMA.  Indeed, some of the ebay listings indicate exactly that, but again, I don't know that I trust them because I don't know to what extent it's true.  I intend to buy my phone NIB from a major retailer, not used -- or even new -- off of ebay.


I've read that while a phone may be compatible with AT&T, not all functionality would be available through T-Mobile.  The same was stated for its Verizon counterpart, with limited functionality through Sprint.


Verizon's signal footprint is still the best in the nation, so I'm hesitant to go with AT&T.  Then again, since AT&T is my local exchange provider for land line service, bundling wireless with my landline and Dish Network (grandfathered with AT&T) through AT&T would likely provide discounts.

Post# 977045 , Reply# 3   1/5/2018 at 20:50 (193 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

New smartphones from Verizon come factory unlocked. Most of them will work just fine on a GSM carrier by sticking the sim of that carrier in the phone. iPhones will for surely work on any carrier.

If you want an unlocked android just get a Moto E4/E4 Plus or G5/G5 Plus from Amazon. They will work on any carrier.

GSM vs CDMA is moot on modern devices since everything is LTE now and Verizon is now allowing several devices without CDMA on their network.

IDK what plan you have now but Verizon has a $40 prepaid plan with unltd talk/txt and 3 GB's data or a $50 plan with 7 GB's data.

AT&T prepaid has a $45 plan that's $40 with autopay that has unltd talk/txt and 6 GB's of data. Or there's Cricket which is a brand of AT&T and uses the AT&T network that has a $30 2GB plan or $40 5 GB plan that's $35 with autopay. Both are unltd talk/txt as well.

Post# 977046 , Reply# 4   1/5/2018 at 20:58 (193 days old) by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

Phones now are relatively non-differentiated and all operate on the same chips; IPhones all operate about the same way, ditto for Samsung Galaxy, etc etc. The differentiation is the frequencies and technologies used on those frequencies.

Traditionally, AT&T and Verizon (and US Cellular, in it's more limited service areas) had the superior coverage and propagation due to their older, lower-frequency spectrum. T-Mobile and Sprint had higher-frequency spectrum which propagated less well. Both T-MO and Sprint, though, have developed recently (Sprint from the acquisition of Nextel; and T-MO from purchasing spectrum and MetroPCS) low-band spectrum over much of the country (which gives much more parity among the big 5 than ever before).

The traditional differentiation (Sprint and Verizon and US Cellular on CDMA; AT&T and T-Mobile using GSM) are still relevant, meaning that phones are generally optimized for one group of carriers or the other, but you DO need to check whether the phone you choose is FULLY supported by the carrier you choose (and vice versa). Old phones (especially flip- and feature-phones) don't have the extensive frequency capability to be fully useful even on their original carriers.

You don't specify your area; there are some subtle differences region-to-region (I've worked in cellular for the last 25 years) but a modern phone, with any of the big 5 carriers, will likely give you equivalent satisfaction within nearly any metro area/suburbs. The "unlimited" flanker brands (Boost/Cricket/Virgin/MetroPCS) require you to give up ANY access to other carriers (where the name-brand services generally will roam onto some other carriers).

Subtle differences--Verizon is a great choice for Michigan travel, except when you do a lot of travelling into the Thumb, where AT&T is superior because it doesn't rely on roaming onto the local carrier. Wisconsin, though, isn't very good for Verizon; US Cellular is really the choice there. We stayed at a rural bed and breakfast in southern Vermont which had 4 bars of AT&T, and nothing else! I use AT&T but am quite exasperated with them and really prefer T-Mobile, and their 55+ 2 line plan is a REAL winner (I expect to talk my husband into moving over next December when I turn). Drop me a line if you've got any further questions or specific situations--like I said, I have managed cellular coverage analysis for many years!

Post# 977055 , Reply# 5   1/5/2018 at 22:04 (193 days old) by RP2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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Wow, great information!  Thanks Jamie and Jonathan.


Jamie, I'll shoot you a PM to discuss details about my plans.

Post# 977065 , Reply# 6   1/5/2018 at 23:47 (193 days old) by RevvinKevin (Southern California)        

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Ralph, I don't know that I can add anything more to what Jamie and Jonathan already said.


An unlocked phone is nice because you can swap out the SIM card (Sprint and Virgin Mobile don't have SIM's) and use it on any network it will work on.  Which is great if you travel out of the country, you just pop in a local prepaid SIM card and you voila, you have a local phone number.  I've done this in both Hong Kong and the Philippines and it's fantastic, especially when you need to contact the person that's picking you up at the airport.   If you don't plan on changing carriers often, I suppose it's of little benefit.


Prepaid plans are a really great way to go because you're paying less for the same or similar service.  I changed a couple years ago.  At first with Virgin mobile, but now I'm with Cricket wireless.  I have the $30 2 GB plan and have no complaints at all.  Yes it uses AT&T's equipment, but they must have improved their towers because it works better now than when I had AT&T a few years ago.


I have no loyalty to any cell phone provider because once they've got you, they no loyalty to you, at least in my eyes.  Just like cable TV, but that's another discussion.  I say just sign up for a prepaid plan, it's month to month and save $$ over their contract plans. 



Post# 977069 , Reply# 7   1/6/2018 at 00:02 (193 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

I agree with Jamie and want to emphasize his point of the importance of a phone being FULLY compatible, not just 1 or 2 frequencies.

Although this is changing, there are still areas (shrinking, I'm sure) where GSM and CDMA are back-ups or carry overflow if the local LTE service is saturated. In that case, your phone not supporting those frequencies means loss of service.

One note of caution about unlocked phones: I bought a G4 Play version that was fully compatible on Verizon. It took A LOT of time to tweak it to work perfectly. I have to admit that Verizon tech support was most cooperative, but it still ate a lot of time.

I went back to what I usually do. I bought a gently used, UNlocked Verizon phone. I stuck my SIM card in and it worked perfectly.

As stated above, phones are slowly becoming less differentiated. I.e. my current unlocked Samsung S7 supports more frequencies than my previous unlocked Verizon phone. I've kept my G4 Play which works on damn near every frequency worldwide to use if I'm ever lucky enough to travel abroad again.

In the Northeast Verizon has the fewest dead spots, ESPECIALLY in rural areas. But there's still weirdness. Up near Woodstock, NY there's an island of AT&T-only service. That island is completely surrounded by a band of Verizon-only service.

Post# 977070 , Reply# 8   1/6/2018 at 00:19 (193 days old) by powerfin64 (Yakima, Washington)        
Im with RevvinKevin

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I also have Cricket for my carrier, again, no complaints at all. I have the $50.00

plan with 8GB data. I can call, text and use my phone when Im in Vancouver B.C.,

where as my last provider was Walmart Straight Talk, plan was cheaper than Cricket,

but could not call, text and use my phone in Canada. Only had 1 outage, which was

last year, Nationwide with Cricket, that can happen with any phone carrier.

Prepaid plans are the way to go. Look into them.

Post# 977074 , Reply# 9   1/6/2018 at 00:42 (193 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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I'm considering going with a prepaid plan for sure. I'm paying $80 a month on AT&T. I get unlimited talk and text and not sure how much data. But I don't use much voice or text so kind of wasting money. Sounds like I could pay half what I am if I went to prepaid, so I'm basically getting ripped off and need to get out now.

My phone is 4 years old or so and seems to be having a lot of problems lately so it's probably time for a new one, no point on getting a new contract as AT&T no longer offers a phone with one. When I got my 2 year contract I paid $30 I think to upgrade to a Galaxy S3 from the iPhone 4S which was "free" with contract. Maybe I should have gotten the iPhone instead.

Went with AT&T because Verizon seemed too expensive and at the time Sprint's coverage was awful. If Verizon is that cheap now prepaid, I might as well go with them, but sounds like I'll need a new phone.

Post# 977119 , Reply# 10   1/6/2018 at 08:27 (192 days old) by Gadgetgary (Bristol,CT)        
Boost Mobile

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Have been a Boost Mobile(part of Sprint) customer for over 6 yrs with absolutely no problems.
I currently am on a $35/mo plan with Unlimited talk, Unlimited text and 6 Gb data. I hardly use 2. And it is $35 period. Hits my charge card every month, and I get a text that Boost is doing that. I have a Moto E4 that I originally paid $79 in August of this year, now the same phone is $49 and have had zero problems with it.
You can't beat the plan or service.
Just my 2 cents..........

Post# 977246 , Reply# 11   1/7/2018 at 00:35 (192 days old) by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

Well I got lucky and joined a family plan on T-Mobile with a bunch of my cousins.  My typical bill is $22/mo unlimited. That is due to the fact I'm a low data user, under 2G.  If I go over that the bill goes up to $30, still great.  Got to say I love T-Mobile, service is great, only had a drop out of service going through the mountains out east.  Got a LG G5 phone and love that too.  Odds are it will be the last phone you can get with a replaceable battery.  Bought mine on Amazon for $230- I will NEVER deal with getting a phone through a carrier, they lock you down and vastly overcharge.  I will only buy a phone outright.


Plus I"ve gotten some great deals on T-Mobile Tuesdays always something interesting - but they are time limited.

Post# 977256 , Reply# 12   1/7/2018 at 01:48 (192 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

There's one issue I'm curious about. There're only 4 *PHYSICAL* nationwide cell networks in the U.S. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. There are a number of regional networks, of which USCellular is by far the largest. Regional networks have roaming agreements with other regional networks and with the big 4 so their customers have nationwide service.

ALL Mobile Virtual Operating Networks (MVNO's) such as Simple, Ting, Cricket, Consumer, etc. do not have their own networks, but rent 'space' on the big 4.

When all is well operations are seamless and everyone is happy.

However, when all is not well such as after a hurricane and towers are down, capacity is limited. There simply isn't 'space' for everyone.

My understanding is that there's a priority of who gets service among residential customers. I've read all 4 networks have the same priority order:

Top: Post-paid customers, currently or formerly under contract
Next: Pre-paid customers
Then: Regional carriers' customers
Last: The customers of MVNO's

Anyone heard anything similar?

Post# 977262 , Reply# 13   1/7/2018 at 02:20 (192 days old) by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

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I've been with ATT for almost 18 years and have had zero problems.  Vanderbilt gets me a 25% discount on cellular.  I have DirecTV which is owned by ATT.  They keep sending me info about bundling and to give them a call, so I did.  They offered to reduce my DirecTV bill, but my cell bill would increase because I'd be on a "new plan".  The two bills together would be the same I currently pay, so I told them never mind and I'll just keep the plan I'm on.  Neither Tony nor I want a smart phone.  Our phones are intelligent, but they are not smart.

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