Switching Phone Carriers: 4 Important Things to Know First

Woman excited about her new phone plan
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

If you’re thinking about making the switch to a different wireless carrier, there are a few things you should know beforehand.

For starters, you shouldn’t even think about switching wireless carriers unless you’re getting a new phone for free. If you take advantage of the right deal at the right time, you can switch carriers and get a free new phone for your trouble.

Here are a few important things to know when switching carriers that can hook you up with a free phone and a better wireless experience.

1. Take advantage of the deals

Basically every free cellphone deal requires you to switch over your cell service. Every single major carrier (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) all currently offer promotions that hook you up with a new phone if you switch to their service.

Take a look at each of the basic unlimited plans from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — each option offers a deal that gives you a free iPhone 12 if you switch carriers and trade in your old device.

For these particular deals, you need to opt for a payment plan that allows you to pay off your new device over the course of two years.

Every month you’ll notice that your cellphone payment is removed from your bill due to the credit you received when you switched carriers and traded in your old device.

The downside is that you basically are stuck with the same provider for the next two years as your credit pays off your device (you’ll need to pay the remaining balance on your device if you opt out early), but getting a new phone for free also sounds pretty good. Besides, if you follow the next few steps you can feel confident about sticking with your new carrier for at least the next two years.

2. Check coverage in your area

One of the main reasons folks change their cellphone carriers is due to a lack of coverage. Few things are more annoying than not getting any signal bars in your own backyard.

Before you switch carriers, you need to do your homework and find out what network offers the best coverage in your neighborhood. The easiest way to check for network coverage is to use a tool like the one offered on WhistleOut.com. Here’s how you can check cellphone coverage in your neighborhood:

  1. After arriving at the WhistleOut homepage, click the blue “Cell Phone Plans” button.
  2. Look for the words “Coverage Check” on the right side of the screen. You’ll notice it reads “Enter Street Address” in the box right below. Type in your address.
  3. Press the “Search” button.
  4. Look for a gray “Map” button in the top-right corner of your screen. After hitting that button, you’ll scroll down to a map of your area.
  5. On the bottom of the map, you’ll see different boxes for different networks (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon). Select a box to see what coverage looks like in your neighborhood.

3. Choose the correct carrier

Once you’ve figured out the best wireless network, it’s time to choose the right carrier. You can either choose a cellphone plan directly from one of the big networks, or you can choose a smaller MVNO carrier that operates on your preferred network.

Choosing between a major carrier and a smaller carrier basically comes down to deciding between a cheap monthly price and added perks. You’ll usually get a better experience (no data throttling, more hotspot data, other perks) by going with a major carrier, but you’ll definitely get a better monthly price by going with a smaller carrier like Mint Mobile.

For example, Mint Mobile is an MVNO that uses T-Mobile’s network. Let’s compare T-Mobile’s basic unlimited plan with Mint Mobile’s basic unlimited plan:

As it stands right now, you pay double for T-Mobile’s basic unlimited versus Mint Mobile. Granted, T-Mobile offers perks like a free phone when you switch (as discussed earlier) and higher streaming quality. You’ll need to decide what you prefer.

4. Choose the right cellphone plan

Now that you’ve got your carrier figured out, you need to get the right cellphone plan. The price you pay basically depends on how much wireless data you want.

Unlimited talk and text is a given in cellphone plans these days, but unlimited data still costs a pretty penny. You’ll need to decide whether you want an unlimited data plan, or if you can live with a limited plan for a cheaper rate.

Considering almost every app on smartphones these days requires data, it may be wiser to find an unlimited plan. Still, to give you an idea of both sets of options, here are the most popular cellphone plans for both unlimited and limited data.

Most popular unlimited plans

Most popular limited-data plans

Follow these steps, and you should find a new carrier that will hook you up with a new device and a better cellphone plan.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.