Making the change to an alternative carrier can save you money and give you better service, but you need to know a few things before you do it.
When you port out your number and switch away from one of the Big Four to a carrier that might work better for you, nothing is hard. You either click a few buttons online and enter a few details or make a phone call from someone else's phone and a person on the other end clicks their buttons. But it's not something you want to go in blind and learn from regretful mistakes. Trust us, we've been there.
The good news is that you already know what you need to do and only need to ask yourself the right questions. We can help. Here's a list of the things you need to get sorted before you make the jump.
Some alternative carriers will sell you a new phone, but most likely you don't need one. The phone you're using now will probably work!
You need to know what type of network and what frequencies your phone supports. That information might be on the box or papers that came with it, but if you don't have those Google will help. If you don't understand what you're seeing there, a quick question in our forums will get you squared away.
Take that information and check it against the network details for the carrier you want to use. You'll find those online at their website or you can give them a quick call. If things match, you're golden.
If you love the phone you have now you can find a company that gives you the right service for it.
You might need to get your phone unlocked if you bought it from the phone company you're using now. That's something they will do for you as long as you've met certain requirements like paying the bill for a set number of months. If you've paid the phone off or finished the contract, they'll help you. If for some reason they can't or won't, there are literally hundreds of third-party phone unlocking services online. Check the reviews and pick one and you'll be good to go in short order.
If you want to buy a new phone, you want to buy one that's unlocked and has the right network frequencies and bands. The people selling you the phone can help or a quick online search has the answer. We've got a few suggestions ourselves.
More: The best unlocked phones
Check the coverage
What works well for me might not work well for you. Every carrier has a map that shows their network footprint. Find it and give it a skeptical look.
Be cautious if you're on the fringe of coverage or there are any fancy modifiers like carrier-partner or anything but the words LTE or 4G when you're looking at the map. And be sure you're looking at the data coverage map, not the voice calling coverage map.
If you're in the middle of coverage with no big gaps on the map, you're probably good. If not, don't be afraid to look at a different carrier.
How much data will you use and how many minutes do you need?
An independent alternative carrier will have more options when it comes to buying service. That's how they can be profitable — they buy a LOT and break it into chunks to resell to us.
Look at your last couple of phone bills and see how many calling minutes you used and how much data you used. Give yourself a little slack and pick a plan that gives you what you need and doesn't have you paying for stuff you're not using.
If you end up not buying enough, you can always add more at any time and adjust for next month. If you choose too much, you can choose less next month. That flexibility is one of the benefits of moving away from the big companies.
You need a little bit of tech-fu
Don't worry, you don't need a lot of tech knowledge, but you will need to know a couple things about your phone.
You'll need to know what size SIM card you need and how to change it. Your manual has all this information or Google does. Your new phone company will be happy to sell you the correct size SIM card as long as you let them know what you need.
You'll also need to know how to program the new network into your phone. Things might work when you insert a new SIM card but sometimes not everything works correctly. This is because you need to set what's called an APN.
Programming your phone for a new network
Changing your phone's network programming to work on a new carrier isn't difficult, you just need to know where to get started!
We've got you covered. You can learn a little bit more about what an APN is and how to set one up for your new carrier so you'll be up and running in no time.
What is an APN, and how do I change it?
APN's for the bigger carriers are already set, and the phone will pick the one that's the closest match to your new service. But to get things like MMS or full speed LTE up and running usually requires you to enter a few lines through the settings. It's easy if you have a little guidance, which you'll find at your phone company website. If in doubt, hit our forums for help.
Make sure you have a fallback plan
It might be tempting to pay the last bill from your old carrier with a wheelbarrow of pennies while letting the world know what a rip-off they are, or even thinking they can stuff it and stiffing them on that last payment. But don't do it.
You can't go back if you burn the bridge. You never know how new service from a new company will be until you try it. If it's unacceptable, you'll want to switch back while you explore other options so you're not without a phone.
That's hard to do if you went out in a blaze of glory. Anyways, the people working at the store aren't the people who are ripping you off every month so be nice. Tell them how they can save money by switching!
Changes can be turbulent soemtimes, but with a little thought switching phone companies doesn't have to be!