Consumers in search of a cell phone service provider have two options. They could go with a major carrier, which would be AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint or T-Mobile. All these carriers operate their own networks. Or, they could go with an MVNO, which means a mobile virtual network operator. These are carriers without their own networks that partner with those major carriers instead. An MVNO can use one major carrier’s network or multiple major carriers’ networks.
Sprint has quite a few MVNOs, and this includes some of the biggest brand names among the small carriers. This includes Virgin Mobile, which is a subsidiary of Sprint, and Boost Mobile. Both only use Sprint’s network. There are also MVNOs that use Sprint’s network and networks of other carriers. This list includes ROK Mobile, which uses the networks of Sprint and Verizon, and Straight Talk, which uses the networks of all four major carriers.
In terms of coverage, Sprint falls short of AT&T and Verizon, as both of those carriers have massive networks covering most of the United States. That doesn’t mean Sprint is lacking, though. The carrier provides solid coverage in quite a few areas, including Southern California, the upper Midwest region and the Eastern seaboard. Sprint is also home to more MVNOs than any other carrier. You can compare Sprint plans at Wirefly.
Roaming on the Sprint Network
It’s important to understand that the Sprint coverage map will indicate more areas than its network covers. That’s because that map is also including the coverage areas of Sprint’s partners. The map indicates these roaming areas when the user zooms in on it.
How a roaming area works is simple. In areas where Sprint doesn’t have coverage, it pays a carrier that does have coverage. This allows Sprint’s customers to get service there.
Although this works out well for Sprint’s customers, the same isn’t always true with customers of MVNOs using Sprint’s network. The MVNO will have access to Sprint’s network, but not the network of Sprint’s partners.
Phone Compatibility on Sprint MVNOs
All a consumer needs to do to figure out if their phone will work with an MVNO is go to that carrier’s site, find the compatibility section, enter their phone’s IMEI number and see if it’s accepted or rejected.
As far as what factors go into this, Sprint keeps a list specifying the phones that it accepts on its network, and any MVNO using Sprint’s network checks the list for compatibility. Sprint’s standard requirements are that the phone is owned by the customer, that it’s at least one year old and that it’s compatible with Sprint’s network. Sprint adjusts its requirements on occasion.
Sprint has a CDMA network. This is the same type of network Verizon has, and CDMA refers to the network’s radio system. Only CDMA phones work on CDMA networks, just like only GSM phones work on GSM networks. AT&T and T-Mobile have GSM networks.
The requirement that the customer must own the phone is to prevent customers from using stolen or fraudulent phones on Sprint’s network. If the customer is still on a payment plan for the phone with a previous carrier, then they can’t switch to Sprint’s network or an MVNO using Sprint’s network until the phone is paid off. Sprint has the capability of blocking a phone’s IMEI if necessary.
If a phone fulfills the requirements, the customer can use it with a Sprint MVNO, and it’s common for customers to bring devices they used with other carriers. There’s also always the option of getting a new phone from the new MVNO.
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