Monday, November 8, 2010

Choose a Wireless Carrier

Choosing a wireless carrier is not an easy decision. You have to factor a number of items such as network coverage, selection of cell phones, rate plan pricing, family plans, and customer service are just some of the questions. Most people choose a cellular carrier based on network coverage and pricing as the most important factors in the selection process. Some people need to have the latest gadget like the iPhone or the EVO which make it easier to switch.

Rating the quality of nationwide coverage remains a challenge. While most reviews can tell you if a carrier offers good coverage in major cities like San Francisco and New York, no one can tell you how the carrier will perform across the United States. It's a huge country, and to accurately say which carrier offers the best network, you would have to make calls in thousands of locations across America. The good news is that most carriers have upgraded their networks to the point where coverage has become less of a factor. In addition, all carriers offer roaming partnerships. Verizon roams with Sprint. AT&T roams with T-Mobile. So coverage is now no longer the deciding factor.

In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about the carrier and the phones and services that they offer. At the end of the day you should have all you need to know about America's cell phone carriers.

National carriers

These carriers offer nationwide service. They offer a broad range of services with standard monthly plans that require contracts. Most offer prepaid plans and though some offer "unlimited plans," data use typically is capped at several gigabytes per month.

Verizon Wireless

After acquiring Alltel in January 2009, Verizon Wireless became the biggest wireless carrier in the United States. It is offers a 3G CDMA network, a music store, and GPS services. Also, it was the first carrier to launch a mobile TV network. Currently, it is conducting tests for a 4G LTE network that is expected to be commercially available in 2011. A joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone, Verizon Wireless was formed in 2000 through a merger between GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic.
Things you should know about Verizon wireless:

• This carrier offers unlimited calling and 5GB data plans.
• High-speed 3G CDMA networks are limited to urban areas.
• Uses BREW instead of Java for games and other applications.
• Of the major carriers, Verizon has received several awards from J.D. Power and Associates for the best network.
• Its smart phone selection is varied and includes handsets that run on Palm, Google Android, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry operating systems.
• Its Friends & Family option offers unlimited calling to a select group of numbers, even landlines.
• As a CDMA carrier, Verizon's international coverage is limited to a handful of countries but it offers dual-mode CDMA/GSM handsets.
• This carrier offers prepaid plans.

Verizon Wireless



AT&T is the second largest wireless carrier in the United States after Verizon Wireless. Today it offers a widespread network and a large and varied selection of cell phones and smartphones. Originally formed in 2001 as Cingular Wireless, it changed its name to AT&T in 2007 to reflect its parent company. In 2004, Cingular acquired the now defunct AT&T Wireless.
Things you should know about AT&T:

• This carrier does not offer unlimited data plans.
• AT&T's "rollover" plans let you roll unused minutes over to the following month.
• Carrier operates a GSM network, AT&T offers extensive international roaming.
• Customers can pay an extra fee to expand night and weekend hours.
• AT&T has picked up some of the trendiest phones soon after their release date. It was the first carrier to offer the Motorola Razr and is the exclusive provider of the Iphone.
• Has a varied selection of smartphones with all major operating systems.
• High-speed 3G networks are limited to urban areas. A 4G LTE network is in development.
• This carrier offers prepaid plans.

AT&T Wireless



Following a 2005 merger, Sprint Nextel is now the third largest wireless carrier and the second largest CDMA carrier in the United States. Sprint began wireless service under its brand in 1995, and Nextel was founded in 1987. Prepaid service is available only through its Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile subsidiaries.
Things you should know about Sprint Nextel:

• This carrier offers unlimited calling and data plans.
• Sprint was the second major carrier to offer a 3G (EV-DO) network.
• Nextel phones offer a strong set of business-friendly features, including adding a second line to a handset. Also, the carrier pioneered push-to-talk technology with its Direct Connect (aka Walkie-Talkie) service.
• Its handset lineup includes a large of smartphones with Android, Palm, and BlackBerry.
• Some plans offer extended night and weekend hours and unlimited calling to any mobile phone regardless of carrier.
• Sprint's CDMA network and Nextel's iDEN network are distinct technologies that use separate networks with different coverage areas.
• International CDMA and iDEN coverage has a smaller footprint than GSM, though the carrier now offers dual-mode CDMA/GSM handsets.
• Sprint was the first U.S. carrier to introduce a 4G (WiMax) network. Currently, it offers a handful of 4G handsets, modems and laptop cards, though the 4G service is available only in 60 cities.

Sprint Nextel



The second-largest GSM carrier in the United States, T-Mobile grew out of the former VoiceStream Wireless in 2001 when Germany's Deutsche Telekom acquired VoiceStream. T-Mobile operates one of the smaller U.S. networks of the big four carriers, but it has roaming agreements with AT&T and other smaller operators. In 2008, it launched its 3G network and last year it introduced a contract-free service.
Things you should know about T-Mobile:

• This carrier offers unlimited calling and data plans.
• T-Mobile's myFaves feature gives you unlimited calling minutes to any five numbers on any network, even landlines.
• As a GSM carrier and a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile has extensive international roaming and thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots in the United States and Europe.
• Of the major carriers, T-Mobile has received the highest customer service rating by J.D. Power and Associates for several consecutive years.
• It was the first carrier to launch a Google Android phone. Its smartphone lineup now includes Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile devices.
• T-Mobile's plans are some of the most competitively priced among the major carriers. In 2009 it introduced Even More Plus plans that don't require a contract, but don't offer subsidies for phones. Its Even More plans require contracts, but come with hardware subsidies.
• After a long wait, T-Mobile finally released its 3G high-speed data network in 2008. Coverage remains somewhat limited, however, and the network is incompatible with AT&T's 3G.
• This carrier offers prepaid plans. It's upgraded HSPA+ network offers 4G-like speeds, though it is not a 4G technology.


Regional carriers
These carriers serve a regional audience with home networks that cover a specific portion of the country. Roaming coverage is available outside of the home network.

U.S. Cellular

Based in Chicago, U.S. Cellular is a regional CDMA carrier serving 26 states in the Midwest, the Southeast, and the Northwest. It has nationwide service, but its native coverage is only in the carrier's home area. In other places, you'll be roaming on Verizon's network, so it's not ideal for frequent travelers. Though many of its handsets are variants of models used by other carriers, it also offers some unique devices. Added features include e-mail and messaging, 3G, push-to-talk services, GPS navigation, and various entertainment options.
Things you should know about U.S. Cellular:

• This carrier offers an unlimited calling plan.
• As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
• Most plans include free incoming calls from any phone number at any time.
• Offers both regional (aka "Wide Area") and national plans. Roaming outside the carrier's native coverage network may cost extra, but you can buy prepaid roaming minutes at a discount.
• This carrier offers prepaid plans.
• Offers Android and BlackBerry smartphones.
• For an extra fee, you can get free mobile-to-mobile minutes with other U.S. Cellular subscribers.
• Like Verizon Wireless, U.S. Cellular uses BREW instead of Java for gaming and other applications.

US Cellular



Serving customers in select markets in Georgia, Florida,Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and California, Dallas-based MetroPCS is a CDMA carrier that offers unlimited minutes as a feature of all its calling plans. Also, it doesn't require a contract from any customer, and it doesn't place restrictions on the time of day you call. Yet there is a trade-off, as many basic services like voice mail and caller ID can cost extra. Like other regional carriers, MetroPCS coverage roams onto other carrier networks outside its home area. Its handset roster tends toward no-frills models, but it does offer smartphone and touch-screen handsets. Available features include e-mail, messaging, wireless Internet, 3G, push-to-talk, and a mobile mapping service from MapQuest.
Things you should know about MetroPCS:

• As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
• Most plans include free long distance and unlimited text messaging and Web browsing.
• MetroPCS is developing a 4G LTE network.
• Offers a limited number of BlackBerry and Windows Mobile smartphones.
• Because MetroPCS does not require contracts and does not offer service rebates, its phones are more expensive than with other carriers.
• Roaming outside the carrier's native coverage area may cost extra, but you can buy prepaid roaming minutes at a discount with the TravelTalk program.
• Not all plans include free voice mail, call waiting, or caller ID. Also, other services like three-way calling and call forwarding, and directory assistance are extra depending on the plan.
• The MetroWeb service offers unlimited wireless Web access for a flat monthly fee.



Cricket Communications

A subsidiary of Leap Wireless International founded in 1999, Cricket serves select communities in 25 states. Like MetroPCS, Cricket caters to casual or budget-minded users. It requires neither a contact nor a credit check for new customers. All of Cricket's monthly calling plans offer unlimited anytime minutes; however, other basic features such as voice mail, caller ID, and call waiting are not always included. You'll be using another carrier's network when roaming, and Cricket also acts as an MVNO for Sprint. Also, its "Premium Extended Coverage" provides almost nationwide coverage thanks to agreements with 14 wireless carriers.
Things you should know about Cricket:

• As a CDMA carrier international coverage is limited.
• Cricket offers unlimited monthly data plans.
• Unlike most carriers, all of Cricket's plans offer unlimited calling minutes as well. Plans differ, however, on which services additional they include.
• Basic features such as voice mail, call waiting, and caller ID can cost extra.
• Additional services Cricket is developing a 4G LTE network.
• It offers BlackBerry and Android smartphones.
• Most plans include free long distance, but roaming outside the carrier's native coverage area will cost extra. Also, you'll be using another carrier's network when roaming.
• Cricket offers 3G, but does not offer push-to-talk.

Prepaid and specialty carriers
These carriers offer prepaid services and cater to a specific audience. Some are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) that do not operate their own cellular network, but lease network space from national carriers instead.


TracFone is an MVNO that serves 10 million customers nationwide. The carrier offers services under several brands: TracFone, Net10, Straight Talk, and Safelink. The latter is a government-supported program that provides a free cell phone and airtime for income-eligible customers. Though all service is prepaid, rates, service options, and handset selection will differ between the brands. Unlike most carriers, the carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones, though handsets are limited to basic models. It does not offer 3G or push-to-talk services.
Things you should know about TracFone:
• TracFone does not permit international roaming, but it does offer international long distance. Also, you can choose to provide friends and family in Canada or Mexico with a local phone number in their area. Calls made to that number will then forward to your U.S. number.
• TracFone offers prepaid service only.
• All services include messaging options.
• You'll need to keep an account balance to avoid losing your phone number. Purchased airtime does not expire.
• TracFone neither charges activation fees nor does it conduct credit checks.
• Your handset choice, rates, and service options will depend on which brand you use.
• The carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones. However, its handset selection is limited to basic models from Kyocera, Motorola, and LG.

Tracfone Mobile


Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile is a wireless brand that is wholly owned by Sprint Nextel. Though originally it marketed its service toward a young, urban audience, Boost is now geared toward all budget-minded consumers. It does not require contracts or credit checks. The primary monthly plan offers unlimited calling, messaging, and Web browsing, but customers can also pay by the minute or by the day. All plans feature push-to-talk services. Originally launched in New Zealand and Australia in 2001, Boost USA launched in 2003.
Things you should know about Boost Mobile:
• Boost handsets operate on Sprint CDMA network or Nextel's iDEN network.
• iDEN international coverage is limited to a small portion of Baja California, Mexico.
• Boost offers a monthly plan with unlimited voice calls, PTT, text, and Web browsing. You also can pay for voice calling by the day or by the minute. Exact services will vary by plan, but PTT is available for all iDEN customers.
• Boost neither charges activation fees or roaming fees, nor does it require contracts or credit checks.
• Boost offers Motorola phones that are similar to those used by Nextel. CDMA models vary. Currently it offers one Android smartphone.

Boost Mobile


Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile markets its prepaid service to the youth market. Its phones are sold in many retail locations and online. In 2008, Virgin Mobile bought Helio and merged the two operations. As of 2009, Virgin Mobile is now fully owned by Sprint Nextel after a $248 million buy-out.
Things you should know about Virgin Mobile:
• As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
• There is no activation fee.
• Multiple payment options are available including prepaid "PayLo" plans and monthly plans with no contract. Unlimited data use is available with monthly plans.
• All monthly plans include unlimited nights and weekends.
• Monthly plans also include support for social networking services, navigation apps, and YouTube.
• There are no roaming or long distance charges.

Virgin Mobile



Kajeet is an MVNO tailored especially for families. It includes the Kajeet Navigator, which is a Web portal software application found on all its phones, and the Kajeet Configurator, a Web-based application that you can access from your PC's browser. The Configurator lets parents add a phone for another child, set up approved and blocked phone numbers, and manage their accounts online. Kajeet utilizes the Sprint backbone to deliver its service and is compatible with a variety of handsets purchased directly from Kajeet.
Things you should know about Kajeet:
• As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
• There is no activation fee and no early termination fee.
• It offers monthly plans with no contract required.
• Parents can use the GPS locator to find the location of their child's phone. The GPS service is only free for the first month; it's $9.99 a month after that.
• Parental controls are free. They are easily accessible via the Kajeet Web site.
• You can set spending limits for your children with a monthly allowance, and you can set time limits as well. You can also control your child's address book by blocking certain numbers.

Kajeet Mobile



Jitterbug is the first mobile virtual-network operator that we know of that is primarily geared toward senior citizens. It currently offers only one phone: The Jitterbug J. It is in the style of a flip phone and is meant to mimic a landline phone. The buttons are big, the keypad is roomy, and the display is easy to read. There's even a dial tone when you turn it on, to make it feel like an ordinary phone. The menu has a Yes/No question-based interface. Jitterbug offers a 24-hour operator service. The carrier operates on Verizon's network and is therefore a CDMA carrier. It is usually offered where there's Verizon network coverage.
Things you should know about Jitterbug:

• As a CDMA carrier, international coverage is limited.
• There is a one-time activation fee of $35. Setup fee is waived for each additional user.
• Subscribers can reach an operator 24 hours a day. Operators give directory assistance, connect calls, and make changes to contact lists. Calls to an operator are deducted from the monthly minutes.
• Individual plans start at $14.99 a month for 50 minutes and go all the way to the Simplicity Plus plan, which is $79.99 a month for 1,000 anytime minutes and 500 nights and weekend minutes. The Simplicity Plus plan also includes free operator services, free voice mail, and free texting. Shared plans also are available.
• Without the Plus plan, these services have fees. Voice mail, for example, is $3 a month.
• Services like MyJitterbug (online account access), MyPhonebook (access your phonebook just by dialing the operator), Daily Health Tips, and MyCalendar (an appointment reminder service), are free for all Jitterbug plans.
• You can buy additional minutes if you find you need more - they range from $19.99 for 100 extra minutes to $119.99 for 1,000 extra minutes.

Jitterbug Mobile

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving information about wireless carriers.I chose second largest wireless carrier(AT&T) in the United States.Because this carrier operates a GSM network, AT&T offers extensive international roaming.But my mobile is restricted by Rogers network.So i needed to unlock my mobile.For unlocking i referred Now i really enjoy with AT&T services.