Love your Verizon or Sprint phone, but ready for a change of network? Here's everything you need to know about ditching your carrier, but keeping your device.
At WhistleOut, we're constantly asked the same question by our readers: will my current phone work on a new network? Unfortunately for Sprint and Verizon customers, the answer can be confusing.
Before we break down the specifics for each carrier, here's a quick primer on CDMA and GSM technologies: what they are, and why they're important in determining which phones you can use across networks. But if you're looking for a quick answer, skip ahead: here for Sprint phones, and here for Verizon.
A SIM or no SIM?
In the U.S., there are two wireless technologies, CDMA and GSM — and they're completely incompatible. Verizon and Sprint's networks use CDMA technology, while AT&T and T-Mobile are built on GSM.
The big difference between the two? GSM networks use a SIM card to store a subscriber's identity and info, while CDMA devices have electronic serial numbers embedded in the device and require reprogramming to change networks.
With a SIM card, you can quickly swap your service provider by inserting a new card into your phone. If your T-Mobile or AT&T phone is unlocked, you should have no problems swapping SIM cards between devices on these networks.
Since the network operators launched LTE networks, it's become a little easier. All LTE networks in the U.S. are built using GSM technology, so newer Sprint and Verizon LTE-enabled handsets include a SIM card and may work on all GSM networks, big and small.
It depends on the way specific phones are designed though. Some older phones only use the SIM card for LTE services, meaning that even if you can switch to a new GSM network, you might not be able to access 2G and 3G services for calls and messaging.
Moving to Verizon and Sprint MVNOs
If you're looking for a cheaper plan and you own a Sprint phone, you're in luck. There are more MVNOs on the Sprint network than on any other. This means your Sprint devices will work on plans from Ting, Republic Wireless, Boost Mobile, and at least one dozen more providers: see the box below to compare.
The bad news? Taking your Sprint phone to Verizon Wireless is still more or less impossible. In addition to the incompatible spectrum bands, Verizon is unlikely to accept the device on its network, and will insist you buy a new, Verizon-branded smartphone.
Moving to AT&T or T-Mobile
If you're hoping to take a Sprint device to T-Mobile or AT&T, you may be able to do so with LTE-capable devices and later model Apple iPhones, but there are no guarantees. If your device is accepted, you may experience good LTE service but sub-par (or non-existent) talk, text and 3G data.
As confusing as it is, if you can get your Sprint phone unlocked, there is a chance you can have it activated for service on a GSM network – but you’ll need to speak with your new GSM carrier, and ask whether they’ll accept the make and model of your handset.
Moving to Sprint and other CDMA networks
In terms of moving to another CDMA network, some Verizon resellers, such as Straight Talk and Total Wireless, may be compatible with pre-loved Verizon devices – you can compare plans by clicking the box below. But you’ll need to check your device’s ID number with each provider directly to determine eligibility.
While taking your Verizon device to Sprint was previously impossible, Sprint is now accepting selected Verizon handsets, particularly later-model iPhones. But despite both carriers sharing the same basic technology, many Verizon devices still won't respond to Sprint service. You'll need to check with Sprint directly as to whether your Verizon smartphone is compatible.
Moving to AT&T or T-Mobile
Great news: Verizon's LTE devices are now network unlocked as soon as you buy them. So some newer LTE devices – for example, the iPhone – may support GSM voice and data if you replace the Verizon SIM with a card from T-Mobile or AT&T.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees and, even if your new SIM does work with your Verizon device, you may not be able to access the 2G and 3G networks. You will be able to use high-speed data, but if 2G and 3G services are limited you may not be able to make calls or send SMS messages.
Is your contract up with Verizon or Sprint?
Start your search for a new BYO phone plan now.
Original cell phone image via Shutterstock