When it comes to cell phone service, there are the major carriers which have their own networks, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. Then, there are the MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators, which don’t have their own networks and instead use one or more of those major carrier’s networks.
There are quite a few recognizable brand names when it comes to MVNOs. On AT&T’s network, the largest MVNO is Cricket. That MVNO is also a subsidiary of AT&T. Cricket only operates on AT&T’s network, as does H2o Wireless. Other AT&T MVNOs include Consumer Cellular, which also operates on T-Mobile’s network, FreedomPop, which also operates on Sprint’s network, and TracFone, which operates on every major carrier’s network.
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Coverage on the AT&T Network
What’s most important for consumes choosing a cell phone plan is the provider’s coverage area, and this is one area where AT&T shines. It has extensive coverage across the United States, even covering those rural areas where many providers lack coverage. In terms of total coverage, AT&T can even rival Verizon Wireless, which is known for its outstanding coverage area. This makes an MVNO that uses AT&T’s network a great choice.
Roaming on the AT&T Network
When evaluating the AT&T coverage map that the provider itself offers, it’s important to zoom in and see which areas are covered by AT&T and which are roaming areas.
Roaming areas are places where AT&T doesn’t have coverage, but another carrier does, and AT&T has paid that other carrier to provide service to its customers. This means AT&T customers are able to get service in most areas, be it through AT&T or a partner carrier.
However, the same may not be true with customers of an MVNO that uses AT&T’s network. It’s common for the agreement between an MVNO and a major carrier to only include the carrier’s network and not the networks of its partners. Of course, the customer will be fine if they’re a customer of an MVNO that’s partnered with all the major carriers.
Phones That Are Compatible with AT&T MVNOs
It’s usually quick and simple to determine if a phone will work on an MVNO’s network. All it takes is going to the MVNO’s site and entering the phone’s IMEI number to see if it’s compatible with that network.
There are two types of networks out there – GSM networks, which is the technology that AT&T and T-Mobile use, and CDMA networks, which is the technology Spring and Verizon use.
With a GSM network, it’s usually easy to switch from one carrier to another, and the same is true with phones. That’s because the network uses SIM cards, and these can simply be swapped from one phone to another. A consumer who wants to switch from T-Mobile to AT&T or an AT&T MVNO will likely have no trouble.
There may be issues if the consumer has a CDMA phone that they wish to use on an AT&T MVNO. These CDMA phones sometimes don’t have frequency bands that are compatible with GSM networks, in which case they won’t work. However, there are certain CDMA devices that are cross-compatible and will work with either type of network. For example, Apple and Samsung often design their devices this way. There is no hard-and-fast rule for phone compatibility, and it’s something that consumers must look at on a case-by-case basis.
The consumer also needs to consider not just if the phone is compatible, but how it will perform. The phone could be compatible but unable to access the entire range of frequencies on the network. It’s possible that the phone could work perfectly when it has a 4G signal, but not at all with a 3G signal or when roaming.
This all only matters if the consumer wants to use their current phone, though. An alternative would be to buy a phone offered by the MVNO.
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