Most cell phone owners understand this: not all phones work with all cell phone carriers.
For example, if you're on Verizon Wireless' or Sprint's network, then you likely can't bring your mobile phone to AT&T or T-Mobile and vice versa. Why? Because the four major carrier networks use two different technologies - GSM (global system for mobile) and CDMA (code division multiple access). While Verizon and Sprint utilize the CDMA network, AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM phone networks.
However, just because you can't bring your CDMA phone to a GSM network carrier doesn't mean you're stuck choosing only from the big guys. There are lots of smaller CDMA phone carriers to consider switching to.
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These lesser-known providers are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs for short. MVNOs lease 4G LTE coverage from the major cellular networks, meaning that you'll receive solid service no matter what carrier you select.
However, you may be asking yourself, "What's the difference between GSM and CDMA?" Well, we've got you covered with this guide to both CDMA and GSM technologies. Once you've checked that out, you can read below for an overview of the best CDMA MVNOs.
Why choose an MVNO?
It's a good question and one that certainly needs to be addressed! Compared to the big four carriers - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile - these low-cost, smaller wireless carriers offer several benefits to smartphone users:
- Save money: Thanks to lower overhead and marketing costs, MVNOs are able to offer you much lower rates on your cell phone plans.
- Customized plans: It's unfortunate, but the big guys mainly offer plans surrounding unlimited 4G LTE data. While that sounds fantastic on paper, customers tend to use less than 3GB of data per month, meaning they're paying an arm and a leg for data their not even taking full advantage of. Well, MVNOs are much more customer-centric; they let you pay for what you need, with no strings attached. In fact, several MVNOs offer build-your-own plans, so you can choose the minutes, texts, and data!
- No contracts or credit checks: MVNOs are prepaid carriers, so if you are unhappy with the wireless carrier's service for any reason whatsoever, you can drop the service whenever you'd like. Even more tempting is that you'll never have to deal with a credit check or two-year commitment.
- Keep your freedom: With bring your own phone programs offered by MVNOs, you can keep your phone without adding an extra $10 - $30 to your cell phone bill for phone financing. And that financing, after a year, tallies up to between $120 and $360.
The Verizon network touts the best coverage in the US (even though the difference between the carriers in terms of coverage is minimal), and the Verizon MVNOs offer great coverage without crazy prices. Here are just some of our top picks:
- ROK Mobile struts its stuff by offering a variety of life benefits alongside its cellular plans. These plans include telemedicine and pharmacy savings.
- Twigby is a perfect choice for those who need little data (e.g. senior citizens). Plans are sorted by type - smartphone and basic phones - and range between Wifi only and 200 minutes to 4GB and unlimited minutes. Even more tempting is that all plans include free texting and feature a 50 percent off introductory rate for two months as well as a satisfaction guarantee. Twigby also emphasizes free overage protection, so you'll have complete control over your cell phone bill.
- US Mobile is an MVNO that gives you free reign over your cell phone plans, so you can build your plan however you'd like. You can choose the minutes, texts, and data. US Mobile also offers an advantage to Super LTE network users - in other words, those who utilize Verizon's network, you'll have access to unlimited data plans.
Sprint MVNOs utilize a solid mobile network, so you'll have no trouble with coverage, so long as you're not in a completely remote area. You'll find below a list of CDMA phone carriers that run on Sprint's network.
- ROK Mobile also allows Sprint phones! However, plans, including the unlimited data plan, are much cheaper if you have a Sprint phone rather than a Verizon phone.
- TPO Mobile is an MVNO that donates 10 percent of your cell phone bill, as well as 25 percent of the company's profits, to charities and organizations in need. While TPO Mobile provides plenty of data for light to medium data users, heavy LTE data users should search elsewhere.
- Ting is all about simplicity. With its talk, text, and data service, there are no hidden fees whatsoever, and you only pay for what you need. In fact, the company touts that the average Ting cell phone bill is only $23 per month, making it one of the cheapest Sprint MVNOs out there and perfect for light or medium data users.
- Tello offers customizable plans for light, medium, and (potentially) heavy data users. With Tello, you can build your own custom plan or choose from any of the "ready-made" deals. Plans range from no data/no minutes to 10GB of high-speed data, unlimited minutes, or both. All plans include calls to Canada, Mexico, and China, free tethering and the ability to reconfigure or cancel your plan anytime you want.
CDMA Carriers List
|Verizon MVNOs||Sprint MVNOs|
|Affinity Cellular||Boom Mobile|
|Best Cellular||Boost Mobile|
|Dataxoom||Chit Chat Mobile|
|Page Plus Cellular||Infinium Wireless|
|Red Pocket Mobile||Net10 Wireless|
|Selectel Wireless||Project Fi|
|SpeedTalk Mobile||Ready Mobile|
|Straight Talk||Red Pocket Mobile|
|Total Wireless||Republic Wireless|
|US Mobile||Telcel America|
|Verizon Wireless||Tello US|
|Zing PCS||Tempo Telecom|
|The People's Operator USA|
|Virgin Mobile USA|
If you have a preference for CDMA carriers but are tired of dealing with the prices charged by Sprint or Verizon, then you should certainly consider CDMA MVNOs, which only takes unlocked CDMA devices and a CDMA SIM card.
There are lots of CDMA carriers out there, with plans that are better suited for you rather than the carrier. ROK Mobile, Twigby, US Mobile, TPO Mobile, Ting, and Tello are our highly recommended picks, but there are dozens more MVNOs out there for you to choose from.
So with that being said, you should take a moment to compare cheap cell phone plans to see how much you can really save each year.