Carrier Basics All Cell Phones Users Should Know

By: Carlie McKeon  |  January 12, 2016

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With cell phone providers fighting for consumers’ attention and money, cell phone users can be overwhelmed with all of the plans, phones, and prices that are pushed in their faces through various marketing ploys.

There is, however, a way to break down what each provider has to offer and find out what service and phone will provide the best value for each unique situation. There is no need for consumers to visit every cell phone kiosk in the mall listening to every sales pitch and hearing about the once-in-a-lifetime “special deals” that are available.

Prior to making a decision, consumers should take into consideration the following aspects of a carrier’s service:

Coverage:

 

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Making sure your carrier services your area seems like an obvious suggestion, but it really is something you should double check. Spotty coverage can be extremely irritating and just because a carrier has a red dot or blob over your state, does not necessarily mean that the connection is up to par.

Ask friends or acquaintances how their connection is. If they use a carrier you are thinking about using, they are the best source for research. You can’t trust what the carrier claims to provide, so finding an objective third party to answer your service questions will most likely be your best bet. You should ask a few different people just to make sure the coverage spans all regions where you typically use your phone (home, work place, school, etc). This method may seem archaic, but it will provide a relatively solid predictor of the quality of coverage in a certain area.

No carrier services all regions perfectly. Reception can be spotty in some areas (especially in places such as elevators, basements, subways, or deep into buildings). Connection can also become an issue in areas where there may be large crowds, like a sporting event or concert.

Another think to look into is whether or not a carrier utilizes GSM or CDMA technology. GSM is the dominant global technology that allows cell phones to work all over the world. If you are someone that travels abroad regularly, a carrier with GSM capabilities would be a better option. CDMA carriers are efficient in North America but are limited in most other regions and countries. CDMA carriers typically provide handsets that enable users to operate in other countries, but unlike the GSM phones, they are significantly more difficult to unlock and transfer.

GSM Carriers:

  • T-Mobile
  • AT&T

CDMA Carriers:

  • Sprint
  • Verizon Wireless
  • Most small providers/carriers

Plan Prices:

 

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How much the service is going to cost initially and then each month is probably the biggest deciding factor. Cell phone plans determine what you get as part of your package, how long the contract will last, and what fees you will have to pay. Determine exactly what you need out of your cell phone service (how much data you use, how many texts you send, how many apps you plan on downloading, etc). You do not want to pay for services you won’t be using.

Most carriers still require their customers to sign a contract agreement which determines how long a user has to stay with that provider (or there will be cancellation fees). There are some providers that do not require a contract, but they may charge more per month or initially for the cost of the phone. There are also pre-paid options to choose from where customers buy the phone up-front and then they use whatever provider they want. Everyone’s needs are different, so it is important just to figure out what will work for you.

Most plans (but not all) include unlimited calling/minutes and unlimited texting. Even though that it is the staple, you should double check and make sure that is included. The distinguishing factor to really take into consideration is data usage. The amount of data someone uses, most of the time, determines how much the monthly fee will be.

Data:

 

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The majority of cell phone users don’t just use their phone to make calls. Smartphones allow us to do so many things all from our mobile device. Since using data is a huge part of smartphone owners’ phone activity, analyzing data networks is also important. According to CNET, data networks “enable your handset to access the Internet, send e-mails, stream music and video, and download the apps that have become so popular.”

Right now, the race to provide the largest and fastest 4G LTE data network between carriers is on. In addition to providing a voice network, data speed and coverage will differ from place to place. To find out if 4G is available in your area, it is wise to once again ask neighbors, co-workers, or friends.

Device Selection:

 

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Lastly, the equipment itself is something you should evaluate prior to making a commitment to a cell phone carrier. Not all phones are available with all carriers. If there is a specific phone you want to have, you should double check to make sure the provider carries it. Since selections vary, make sure you know exactly what kind of phone you want.

Up-grade plans will also determine what phone you can have and when you can get a new one (without dropping hundreds of dollars). Some carriers even provide early-upgrade or leasing options for those who want the newest phone available.

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