Before we answer your question on how to switch phone carriers and keep your phone, let’s take a look at our path and technology. Since the beginning of the 2010s, the world has been shifting to ever more advanced forms of telecom technology. Older methods of telecommunications are slowly being replaced by newer, more digitalized ones. And now, in 2020, we are in the middle of a pandemic which forces us to do nearly everything from our homes.
Many people have to study, work, and shop via the internet. While others are having the time of their lives watching Netflix all day. We expect everything to happen immediately these days. These days even a slow-loading webpage can cause major frustrations.
You may want to switch your current phone carrier to a better one that could save you time. Fret not! It is an era of technology and phone carriers are competing with each other to give their customers the best experience. There are a lot of carrier options with various plans, ranging from the more affordable to some quite costly ones. Striking the balance between a good, reliable carrier with more affordable plans is like hitting the jackpot.
Is it difficult to switch carriers?
Sometimes, switching carriers is not as simple as you think. Understandable, though. It might not be practical to move devices when you consider the amount of data stored in it. And buying a new phone only to switch carriers sounds like an extravagant waste of money. So, switching carriers while keeping your current phone is definitely the best option. Yet it is not hassle-free.
For one, a lot of phones are locked by the carrier. This means you can’t switch carriers unless it is the same one you bought your phone from. But, like most things in life, there is a workaround. Yes, there is some work involved. But stick with us and learn how to switch phone carriers and keep your phone. A little bit of a hassle has got to be better than buying a new phone and moving your 300 GB of data, right?
But first, you have to know the difference between phone carriers and providers. Wait, there is a difference? Yes, so let’s take a look.
Switching carriers vs. switching providers
Carrier, as the name suggests, carries the phone number. It is the track where a connection travels from one point to another. You cannot make a call without a carrier that connects the caller to the receiver. On the other hand, a provider provides the service to their customers. They offer products mostly in the form of mobile plans for you to choose from. That said, carrier and provider go hand in hand and both are necessary to make your phone function. That was back in the day, though. It is more common now for providers, especially the big companies, to have their own carriers.
By having carriers, it becomes more efficient for companies to keep track of their services. In some ways, it also benefits the customers. Say there is something wrong with the connection. The customer can immediately call the provider and they should be able to solve it without passing their customers around.
Now, that you know the difference, let’s get back to the matter in question.
How to switch phone carriers and keep your phone? First, check your phone compatibility
The main thing you need to check is your phone compatibility. There are three wireless standards, CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access), GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication), and LTE (Long Term Evolution). CDMA and GSM support both cellular and data, while LTE only supports data.
CDMA and GSM
Before the advancement of LTE, CDMA and GSM held the market. It was easy to differentiate the two phone types: GSM phones featured a SIM card slot whereas CDMA did not. A SIM card is used by the GSM network to identify the users. It also stores users’ data such as service subscription info. Meanwhile, CDMA phones work by letting their users access the entire network. This allows everyone to connect to the network at any given time.
Having no SIM card slot, CDMA stores users’ data in a digital sequence. The lack of a SIM card slot is also what makes CDMA phones more restrictive. You cannot unlock a CDMA phone and get it to operate on the GSM network. Nowadays, though, CDMA phones are adding a SIM card slot as they need to keep up with the LTE technology.
As the world advances to newer technology and digitalization thrives, LTE is taking the throne. LTE is like the upgraded version of GSM with similar technology. It beats GSM in terms of data speed and quality with its 4G network. Now LTE is ready to step even further through the development of 5G. It allows you to watch high definition YouTube videos and one season of Netflix series as if you have them downloaded!
Nonetheless, as LTE only supports data, people still rely on CDMA and GSM for calls and texts. It means you still need to choose between getting a CDMA or a GSM phone. These days though, most people are using GSM phones. Unlike CDMA, a GSM phone is less restrictive. GSM tends to have a wider coverage area (sometimes it is also a matter of network coverage, so find the carrier that works best in your area).
It is said that in some rural areas where CDMA does not work, GSM does! That is also why LTE phones with GSM capabilities are more preferred than those with CDMA capabilities. In some countries, it is also possible for GSM phones to operate on the CDMA network. Note that they need to have a built-in CDMA cellular chipset for this to apply.
Switching between CDMA, GSM, and LTE
So, if you are using GSM and want to switch to CDMA, make sure that your phone is compatible with both standards. To check it, you can go to your phone settings and click the “About” option. You will find a MEID, ESN, or IMEI number. If MEID or ESN is written, it means your phone is a CDMA. If IMEI is written, then your phone is a GSM. What if both are written? You are in luck! It is compatible with both CDMA and GSM!
Check your SIM card size
This is rather a smaller issue than other concerns on how to switch phone carriers and keep your phone. Regardless, it is important to note. The SIM card slot in a phone can and does differ in size. There are three slot sizes: normal, micro, and nano.
A normal-sized SIM card slot is often found in older phones. You can insert your new card into the phone and use it immediately. For micro and nano-sized slot, you need to cut your SIM card into a smaller piece. It used to be a problem if you bought a normal SIM card while your phone has a micro or nano card slot. If you were unlucky, the card you had cut and the slot would still mismatch. You would need to buy another new card. What a carry-on!
As the micro and nano-sized slot is getting more common, nowadays carriers sell adjustable SIM cards. There are designated lines that tell the customers where to cut the card, making it possible to put it into all types of card slots. On the other side, some phone manufacturers also try to answer this issue by producing an adjustable card slot. It comes with a card placeholder that can be set to fit more than one type of card.
Get your phone unlocked
Next, if you are sure that your phone works on your new preferred carrier, check if it is carrier-locked. A carrier-locked phone restricts you from switching carriers, even if it has no issue on compatibility. When you insert a different SIM card into a carrier-locked phone, it will tell you that it rejects the SIM. This can be an issue especially if you have no choice but to change your SIM card. For example, it turns out that your current carrier has poor speed quality whenever you are on a Zoom conference. It will be hard for you to go through a daily meeting!
Another situation is when you are going on a short term vacation overseas. A lot of carriers do offer short term international plans. However, a week of international plan often comes with roaming fees that might cost you 1-2 months of the regular plan. So? Buying a new local SIM card it is! As traveling becomes a need, there has been a rise in SIM card demand from international tourists. Carrier companies take the bait and come up with SIM cards designed for short term travelers. The active period ranging from days to weeks, with plans ranging from budget to full service.
For carrier-locked phone users, remember to make a call to your carrier a few days before your departure. Explain the urgency and ask them to get your phone unlocked. There could be a fee, but it is very unlikely to cost as much as the roaming fees. Also unlocking your phone might be more practical for future use!
There are also third-party services that offer phone unlocking service. The price varies depending on the type of phone you have. After confirming your order and making a payment, you will be given a code to unlock your phone. This third-party service can be risky, though. You have to be very careful and do thorough research especially if it is an online service. Find those with reputable services and ask around to confirm it.
Reading through customers’ reviews can also help you identify a trustworthy service. If you don’t feel like calling someone or are put off by a potentially risky option, you can also try to unlock it yourself. Take note: the instructions will differ between phone types. You may have to find the specific instructions for your phone type and study it. However, here is some information you will most likely need to unlock your phone:
- Phone number
- Phone number holder’s name
- IMEI number
Oh, another thing! Make sure that it is permissible by the law in your country. Some countries do have laws on unlocking phones without permission. Be careful and avoid any legal issues! If you’re a Sprint user, check out How to Unlock a Sprint Phone that’s Not Paid Off for more details.
In that article, we explain the process focusing on Sprint and its policies. Keep in mind that each provider or carrier has its own terms and conditions when it comes to unlocking a phone. Some are quite simple, you only have to wait for some time and/or have to pay for the termination fee. However, some others require you to pay the fine from breaching the contract. It would be useful to revisit the contract you signed before starting the switching process.
Switching carriers when you are on a contract
Another popular concern about switching carriers is that you are still on a contract with your current one. This usually happens if you buy your phone from a specific carrier company. The phone comes with a phone number, with a specific mobile plan that you have to purchase every month for 1-2 years. The moment you swipe your card, you are on a contract and are expected to stay loyal to your current carrier. You cannot switch to another carrier during that period.
This issue is also related to the carrier-locked phone. Companies that sell phones on contracts usually have their phones locked to keep their customers for a certain period. Even if they are unlocked, the contract remains on-going and customers are bound to the contract. Carrier companies claim that this is because the phones they sell are subsidized. A phone bought from a carrier has a lower retail price than a phone bought from another source or outlet. Carrier companies need to make up for this by getting people to buy their services and plans. It is part of their business model, but let’s save it for another time.
Of course, the best scenario is buying unlocked cell phones, but who can say no to the tempting offers that come with locked phones?
What happens if you switch in the middle of a contract?
Let’s say you are in the 9th month of a one-year contract with Verizon. You are paying on a month-to-month basis. Then, you find out that T-Mobile offers a better more affordable plan, which could reduce your monthly expenses by 10%. Imagine how much it is for a whole year!
While it may sound interesting, you also need to consider the fact that you still have to pay for another 3 months to Verizon. Plus the 9th month is not over yet! It could double your spending on mobile plans for the upcoming months. Uh, oh. Even more expenses. What about breaking the contract then? Unfortunately, there are carrier companies that impose penalty fees for early contract termination.
If you look into it, switching carriers while being on a contract may not be the best decision for your financial wellbeing. In this case, it really depends on you. We would recommend you stay in the same lane until you are out of the contract. But if you have extra bucks to spend, go for it! You may need to contact your carrier and go through some administrative procedures to terminate the contract. Other than that, make sure to do the steps mentioned before and you are good to go.
To summarize, here is how to switch phone carriers and keep your phone:
- Check your phone compatibility. Does it work on CDMA, GSM, or both?
- Check your SIM card slot whether it is for normal, micro, or nano-sized SIM card.
- Make sure you are not on a contract or owe your carrier any mobile plan purchase. Unless you are willing to pay the penalty fees or spend more money for a couple of months.
- Check if your phone is carrier-locked. If it is, contact your carrier to get them unlocked. Or use a third-party service. Or browse instructions online to unlock it yourself.
Now you might think that switching carriers while keeping your phone needs quite an effort. But if it is really needed, we do think the extra effort is worth it! The digitalization era makes us heavily reliant on the internet. This makes a good internet connection a must rather than a want. Moreover, unending pandemic restrictions require us to stay home and do a lot of daily things online. An affordable carrier with acceptable network quality can also save you big money! All in all, it is about time to find the carrier that is suitable for your needs. We hope this article is helpful to you!