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Four Different Ways To Determine Phone Compatibility To Other Networks

Changing cell phone carriers is a little bit tricky. But, it's not as hard as many people fear. Here are some tips to help you switch your cell phone service.

Keeping Your Phone Number

Did you know you can keep your phone number when switching carriers? The federal government says carriers must let consumers keep their current number. The Wireless Local Number Portability (LNP) Act from the Federal Communication Commission tells wireless carriers that if you stay local, your number stays with you. If you are moving to a new city and a new carrier, then companies require you to get a local area code phone number. But if you just switch phone networks, keep your same number.
There are a few limitations. The new carrier might refuse the phone number although this rarely happens. If you use a family plan and want to switch to a new carrier, you need a separate service plan. If charges remain with your old carrier, switching networks does not cancel the debt. Keeping your number with a prepaid plan is slightly more complicated but doable. Don't quit your old carrier until your new service gets established because canceling service cancels the phone number.

Phone and Network Compatibility

Not all cell phones work with all networks. It depends on the cellular technology used by the carrier. The two kinds of technology are GSM and CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM while Sprint and Verizon use CDMA. To put it simply, GSM phones use SIM Cards, CDMA do not. The SIM card is the removable plastic card inside your phone. It holds all your data and shows your wireless network. To switch phones just insert your current SIM card into the new phone. But that doesn't solve the network technology issue.
CDMA phones only need a SIM card for 4G capabilities. Instead, CDMA 2G and 3G phones use electronic serial numbers coded into the phone. When switching from a CDMA coded phone, the new provider grants permission for a new serial number for use on its network. This makes switching carriers a little trickier but not much. Carriers like when people switch their phones to them.
A few phones, mainly some of the newer iPhones, use both technologies and these phones are global carriers, meaning they work with both GSM and CDMA. In that case, switching to different networks is much easier.

Locked or Unlocked


Image via Flickr by Thomas Morris
The major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint lock their phones to their networks. This necessitates unlocking the phone before switching to another carrier. If the phone came directly from a phone manufacturer, like an iPhone from Apple, it comes unlocked. The ease or difficulty of unlocking a phone depends on your carrier.
Try one of the following ways to figure out if your phone needs unlocking. If the phone uses a SIM card, simply switch SIM cards with a phone from another network. Turn the phone off, then on, and try calling out. If the call does not go through it means you need the phone unlocked.
Another method uses the IMEI number, a 14- to 16-digit serial number used for identification purposes. If someone steals your phone, your carrier uses the IMEI to deactivate the phone. Log onto T-Mobile and use the IMEI checker and find out if you have a locked phone.
A third way to check the status of your phone is to navigate to Settings on your iPhone and select "Cellular." Look for the Cellular Data Network setting. A locked phone won't show that line. If the line is there, your phone's unlocked.

Unlocking Phones

Letting the carrier unlock your phone is the best way. Some phone repair shops offer phone unlocking and some people try online apps that promise to unlock phones. But again, it's best left to the professionals.

So, before switching phone networks, research the plans and devices. Check the coverage map before making the switch, so you don't suffer from spotty service. Buying a new phone when you switch is another option and your data transfers. Remember though, voicemail does not go with new service so listen to messages before switching.  

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