1. Does it own its infrastructure?
Broadly speaking, cell phone companies are one of two kinds: MNOs and MVNOs.
Mobile network operators (MNOs) actually own the cellphone towers and other infrastructure that make the network work and provide you with connectivity. Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), on the other hand, do not own the wireless infrastructure that makes the network work.
What’s the significance? All other things being equal, it’s better to be an MNO customer as they actually own the technology and can support it directly if anything goes wrong. Although on the other hand, an MVNO can be cheaper.
2. How much data is included?
If you’re a very active YouTube user on your phone, then you’ll want to find a provider that has a data plan with a generous allowance. The gigabytes can really add up! Don’t forget that it’s also important to scrutinize the fine print. In case you weren’t aware: unlimited rarely actually means unlimited. Check for reasonable uses clauses and anything else that limits how much data you can actually draw down through the network. And watch out for overage charges if you exceed the cap as well as throttling policies which can slow down your connection. Those can be pricey. And annoying.
3. How much does it cost?
Yes, one of the key considerations you’re going to want to keep in mind is how much the usage is going to cost. Remember that even though most cell phone service providers offer monthly plans, everything isn’t always included in the price. Look out for:
- Add on charges
- International calling costs
- Roaming costs
Many providers will advertise special deals on cheap roaming prices so that when you use your phone abroad you won’t need to pay extortionate fees. But others will not have any offers of this nature.
4. What are the long term prices?
Switching between mobile providers can be a pain. There’s the setup/activation process, you might have to change your familiar handset for one that can work with the network, and you mightn’t receive the level of coverage that you’ve come to expect. For this reason it’s prudent to check out whether the network has any long term deals that are designed to incentivize customers to stick with the network.
Look for the deals comparison section of websites and see whether they have three or five years plans.
5. Can you bring your own device?
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plans do what they say — you can bring your own (unlocked) phone to the network. If the provider you’re thinking about joining supports this, then you’re still going to have to make sure that your handset (phone) is compatible. For that you can speak to their support or check the network’s technical specifications and frequencies.
There are some networks that insist that you rent or buy a handset that they offer. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
6. CDMA or GSM?
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System For Mobiles (GSM) are two radio systems that phones use to communicate with cellular connection networks in the United States. GSM phones use SIM cards while CDMA phones don’t because the phone itself is authenticated to the network at the device level.
It’s important to know if your handset is CDMA or GSM, and to check with the network to make sure you can use it.
7. What’s the port-in process?
If you want to keep your existing cell phone number then you can generally do so with ease. Porting in is the technical term for this process and means that the cell phone provider will take over your phone number after your old carrier releases it.
Providers vary in terms of what steps they require for this process and how long it generally works. You can usually find out these details on the company’s site or by asking support.
8. Does the network support 5G?
5G is a latest generation high speed cellular network that’s currently rolling out incrementally around the world. At the time of writing, 5G is only beginning to be rolled out throughout the US. But that situation will change as time goes on. If you want to avail of these fast connection speeds then you’ll need both a 5G capable phone and a carrier that supports the network. Check before signing up if your network fits the bill.
9. Is there coverage in my zip code?
Coverage for 4G (LTE) and 5G can be hyper-localized because infrastructure is so variable throughout the US. The good news is that you don’t need to guess. Most carriers now feature a Zip-based coverage lookup tool on their sites. This lets you punch in your Zip code and the site will let you know if there is reception available where you’re interested in connecting to.
10. What customer service is available?
Of course now and again things will go wrong with the network or your account. Therefore, it’s imperative to have access to good support if needed. You can get a sense for what kind of resources are available in this respect by checking out your prospective carrier’s website and seeing what sort of services are available. Is it a live chat based support experience? Is there an online knowledge base and helpdesk? You can find out all these details before you sign up as a customer.
Pick A Good Carrier
There’s no need to rush the selection process. Finding a quality carrier that will support your usage needs is an important decision. Follow through our guide to make the optimum choice.