Choosing a wireless carrier is not an easy process. With four major carriers in the United States, the options seem very limited. There are pros and cons to each of them. For some, choosing one of the big carriers is not an ideal choice. Smaller carriers, known as MVNOs, often offer better options such as a low monthly fee compared to the major carriers.
What is a MVNO?
MVNO stands for multi-virtual network operator. These operators are smaller carriers that use the network infrastructure that is owned by a major cell phone carrier like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. This article focuses on carriers that use the network infrastructure of Verizon Wireless.
Out of all of the carriers, Verizon proves to be the most popular choice among wireless customers due to coverage. It covers the largest amount of area across the United States. This is particularly true of areas that are more rural and harder to cover by other carriers. Its wide coverage area is consistently proven in nationwide network coverage testing. Verizon takes the top spot in this regard and it is the main reason why the carrier has so many subscribers that do not want to leave it.
Understanding the Difference Between CDMA and GSM
CDMA and GSM are abbreviated terms for two different types of radio networks used in cellphones. Of the 4 major network carriers, each is either a CDMA carrier or a GSM carrier.
This means that phones with either radio frequency cannot be used interchangeably i.e. A Sprint handset cannot be used on an AT&T network. The exception to this rule is Verizon. Verizon handsets usually contain both sets of radio networks. So when a Verizon-locked handset is unlocked by a carrier, it can be used on a GSM network.
MVNO Coverage and Roaming with Verizon
Verizon has great nationwide coverage so it does not have to make its coverage map look bigger by adding roaming areas to it. As a result, the coverage area on their website closely matches the actual area included in most reviews. It covers the majority of the United States with a few exceptions.
Coverage with MVNOs is not quite as accurate as the regular Verizon network. This is due to MVNOs not always having access to the full network in some areas. The coverage here may be spottier than others. But the good news is that this typically applies to very rural areas so more populated ones won’t see this crop up.
Phone Compatibility on an MVNO
Smaller MVNO carriers usually have a compatibility checker on their website so that those who are thinking of switching to it can see if the device works. Simply enter the IMEI number in the box and press enter. If your device isn’t compatible, here are some reasons why.
Verizon keeps a list of the phones that are allowed to be added to the network. Each MVNO uses the same list. Sprint also follows the same process. Each phone:
Must not be financed or have an obligation attached to it.
Less than a year old (policy changes sometimes)
If the phone does not meet the above criteria, it can be blocked from being added. Devices from other carriers coming to an MVNO have their own challenges. Generally, devices from AT&T and T-Mobile won’t work. But phones made by Apple or Samsung are usually able to work on multiple networks.
One caveat to bringing a device to an MVNO from anyone other than Verizon is functionality. A 4G cellular signal might be present, but calling, texting, and using data may not be possible. Roaming might also be limited. Those who have experience with multiple carriers may know the ins and outs better than those who don’t.
If you’re not sure what device will work, buy one from the MVNO you want to use and you’ll be all set!
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