How to Tell Which Carrier A Smartphone Will Work With
Will your new smartphone work on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS
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You need to know what network your smartphone will work on if you have an unlocked phone, are considering a switch to a different carrier, or just purchased a used smartphone. Unfortunately, knowing whether your smartphone will work with any given network isn’t a straight-forward process; there are several things you need to investigate before you can determine whether your phone is compatible with your desired network. This guide will show you how to tell what network your smartphone will work on.
CDMA versus GSM
There are two types of smartphone networks, CDMA and GSM, and each uses its own technology. Most smartphones today are compatible with either CDMA or GSM, though some are capable of connecting to both types of networks. You need to know whether you have a CDMA, GSM, or CDMA-GSM smartphone in order to determine whether you can connect to a given network.
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GSM is the favored network type worldwide; however, in North America CDMA is widely used. The two technologies are incompatible with one another; thus, if you have a GSM smartphone it will not work on CDMA networks and vice versa.
U.S. major carrier network types
The first step toward figuring out which network your smartphone will work on, then, is to find out whether your phone employs CDMA or GSM technology. You can do so by looking up your model on your phone manufacturer’s website. GSM smartphones always feature SIM cards, so the presence of a SIM card could indicate you have a GSM phone; however, smartphones that feature both CDMA and GSM, or that access 4G LTE, also have SIM cards.
Knowing whether your smartphone is CDMA or GSM won’t tell you definitively whether it will work on a given network. Many modern CDMA smartphones are sold as “world” or “global” phones, which means they also have GSM radios intended for international use on GSM networks. It would stand to reason that any CDMA smartphone would work with any CDMA network and any GSM-enabled smartphone would work with any GSM network; however, that’s not the case.
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Wireless network frequencies and bands
CDMA and GSM networks are accessed via varying frequency ranges, or bands. Your smartphone’s radio must use the same band as a given network in order for it to be compatible. Not only that, but networks support certain bands dependent on geographic location. So, to know what network your smartphone will work on you first have to know whether:
• You have a CDMA or GSM phone (or a CDMA phone with GSM capabilities)
• What band (frequency) your smartphone uses
• The network provides support for that band in your location
Many sources report that GSM smartphones can work on any GSM network; all you have to do is swap SIM cards. By and large this is accurate, though it’s important to note there are four primary GSM bands and your phone must still be compatible with your GSM band to work.
GSM phones are sold as dual-band, tri-band, and quad-band as follows:
• North America/Western South America dual-band: 850/1900 MHz
• Europe/Asia/Australia/Eastern South America dual-band: 900/1800 MHz
• Tri-band (works in most global locations): 900/1800/1900 MHz or 850/1800/1900 MHz
• Quad-band (works globally): 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
CDMA phones aren’t as cross-compatible as GSM phones, since their network configurations are stored internally rather than on SIM cards (though 4G LTE access often requires SIM cards). Both CDMA and GSM smartphones can operate on 4G LTE networks, though the term “4G LTE” is used for marketing and has no real technical bearing.
4G LTE bands supported by the four major U.S.-based wireless carriers are as follows:
CDMA and/or GSM
• Verizon: 700 MHz c (Band 13); AWS 1700-2100 MHz (Band 4)
• Sprint: 800 MHz (Band 26); 1900 MHz (Band 25); 2500 MHz (Band 41)
• AT&T: 700 MHz b (Band 17); AWS 1700-2100 MHz (Band 4)
• T-Mobile: AWS 1700-2100 MHz (Band 4)
Here’s where it can get confusing: a CDMA phone won’t work on a GSM network, but if your CDMA phone has GSM capabilities it can work on a GSM network – provided the phone and network in question use the same frequencies. So, for example, a Verizon phone operating in GSM mode on Band 4 should, in theory, work on either AT&T or T-Mobile networks using Band 4 frequencies. On the other hand, Sprint doesn’t offer Band 4 on its network; moreover, even though Sprint and Verizon both issue CDMA phones, their bands aren’t compatible and therefore a Verizon phone will not work on the Sprint network, and vice versa.
You can find out what bands your smartphone is compatible with by researching its model number on the manufacturer’s website. Look for its technical specifications to find compatible bands.
To 4G LTE, or not to 4G LTE
Even when a smartphone and a given network are compatible, the level of service and other available features can be somewhat unpredictable. For example, a phone might be able to connect to a network’s 3G service, but not 4G LTE, which of course would affect performance. In other cases, basic services such as voice and text might work, but more advanced features might be limited.
Such unpredictability can make it difficult to make good decisions when choosing a smartphone or selecting a network. In addition, networks support different bands according to location; so even though your smartphone might technically be compatible with a given network, it might not be compatible in your area – further complicating the issue.
You also need to consider carrier policies when selecting a phone and network combination. Some networks – especially smaller, pay-as-you-go networks – will refuse to activate phones purchased from competitors. So, even if you have a smartphone that will technically work on a given network, you might be denied access.
The only real way to tell what network your smartphone will work on
Ultimately, there is only one real sure-fire way to tell if your smartphone will work on a given network: call the wireless carrier in question. Carrier customer service representatives will be happy to help you determine whether your smartphone will work on their networks; they want your business, after all.
Here are the customer service phone numbers for the four major U.S. wireless carriers:
• Verizon: 800-922-0204
• AT&T: 800-331-0500
• Sprint: 866-866-7509
• T-Mobile: 800-866-2453
Before you call it’s a good idea to conduct your own research so you can answer any questions to help determine whether your smartphone is compatible with the carrier’s network. In addition, if your customer service representative doesn’t seem knowledgeable on the topic you should ask to speak with a tech support rep or someone else who understands smartphone-network compatibility in-depth. Find out for yourself if your smartphone should work on a carrier’s network first to prevent someone else’s inexperience from blocking your network access.
Determining what network your smartphone will work on requires diligent research, and your conclusion should be verified by calling your carrier directly. By taking these measures, you can confidently connect your smartphone to your selected network to access reliable mobile service.metroPCS Authorized Dealer