Whether you’re signing up for a new plan or looking to switch providers, being able to bring your own phone (or buy one outright) often means savings in the long run.

It also means you can switch providers should service not meet your needs or your find a better deal later.

But how do you know which phones work with which carriers?

Turns out it’s simple, you need just to know some information first…


Understanding How Cell Phone Service Works

Like your wireless router or satellite receiver, cell phones use wireless frequencies to transmit and receive data.

Which frequencies will depend on both the network you’re using and what you’re doing on your phone.

Most times, voice and text message data is sent on one set of frequencies while high-speed data or HD voice calls use another set.

This means that a phone might support some frequencies of a carrier but not all.

When this happens, service is hit or miss.

So check all required frequencies.

We have a handy table for that later in this guide.

Just keep in mind, matching only one frequency or two doesn’t mean it’s your best choice!

Most networks use multiple bands or frequencies to ensure strong coverage. If you can only access a few of these, you might find a spotty signal when you need it most.

In most parts of the world, phone service providers use GSM networks. These networks use a SIM card to identify your account and connect you to the network. 

If your provider offers 4G/LTE access, they use GSM to do so.

 

NOTE: A few networks in the US, including Sprint and Verizon, use an older technology known as CDMA. These networks store identification information in your phone.

In general, if you have a CDMA phone, it’s harder to switch to other carriers. They don’t even always work well on other CDMA networks. So we recommend avoiding them if you plan to travel or change providers in the near future.

But there’s one more factor to consider...


The Big Question: Is Your Phone Unlocked?

We’ve gone over the benefits of an unlocked phone before. But for this guide, whether your phone is unlocked is critical to knowing which networks your phone can use.

Even if a phone’s hardware supports another network, you won’t be able to access it unless the phone is unlocked.

How can you check?

You have a few options:

1. Insert a SIM Card from another carrier:

If you have a friend that uses a different network than you do, ask if you can borrow their SIM. As long as they are the same size, inserting it into your phone and rebooting it will tell you if your phone is unlocked.

If it is unlocked, it should connect to the network and be able to place a call or send a text. Just keep in mind, you’re using your friend’s account if you’re using their SIM. 

Don’t do anything too crazy…

If it’s locked, you’ll either see a prompt to insert and unlock PIN or you won’t be able to connect to the network.

2. Search the Model Number Online

While you could search the name of your phone, there are often variants of each phone released for various networks and regions. This means you won’t be able to tell if the phone is unlocked by name alone.

If you search the model number and discover it is related to a carrier brand, there’s a good chance it was locked at one point.... 

Unless you know you or the person you bought it from unlocked it already, it’s probably still locked to that carrier.

This brings us to the next method…

3. Call the Carrier Listed on the Phone

Most locked phones include some sort of branding. Many have a logo on the rear or one the animations that play when the phone boots.

Call them and ask them if the phone is unlocked. Not only can they tell if it is locked, they’ll be able to tell if it’s eligible to unlock as well. 

If you are eligible for a carrier unlock, you can save a little money compared to third-party unlocking services.


Next Steps

If your phone is unlocked (or you know the phone you’re planning to buy is unlocked) you’re ready to continue this guide.

If not, you’ve still got options... 

While it might take a few days to complete the process, our phone unlocking guide offers everything you need to know. 

Once your phone is unlocked, you’re ready to come back and see which networks you can use!

So How Do You Know Which Frequencies You’ll Need?

You could check every carrier that offers service in your area…

Or you could check the handy table below. We’ll list the frequencies used by each carrier and provide a link to check if your phone is supported.


CARRIER BANDS/FREQUENCIES USED MORE INFO

FREQUENCIES: 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1, 2300 WCS

BANDS: 2, 4, 5, 17, 30

AT&T

AT&T Compatibility Check

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900

BANDS: 25, 26, 41

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile Compatibility Check

FREQUENCIES: 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1, 2300 WCS

BANDS: 2, 4, 5, 12, 17, 30

Consumer Cellular

Consumer Cellular Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 800, 1900

BANDS: 2, 4, 13

CREDO Mobile

CREDO Mobile Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1, 2300 WCS

BANDS: 2, 4, 5, 17, 30

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900 

BANDS: 25, 26, 41

FreedomPop

FreedomPop Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 900

BANDS: 2, 4, 13

Great Call

GreatCall does not support bringing your own phone

FREQUENCIES: 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12

MetroPCS

MetroPCS Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12

Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

Net10 Wireless

Net10 Wireless Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

PagePlus

PagePlus Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 700, 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1, 2500

BANDS: 2, 4, 12, 25, 26, 41

Project Fi
Project Fi Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12, 25, 26, 41

Exact requirements depend on region/SIM type

Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

SIMPLE Mobile

SIMPLE Mobile Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900

BANDS: 25, 26, 41

Sprint

Sprint Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

Straight Talk

Straight Talk Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12

T-Mobile

T-Mobile Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900

BANDS: 25, 26, 41

Tello

Tello Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12, 25, 26, 41

TextNow

TextNow Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12, 25, 26, 41

Exact requirements depend on region/SIM type

Ting

Ting Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

Total Wireless

Total Wireless Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1 

BANDS: 2, 4, 12, 25, 26, 41

Exact requirements depend on region/SIM type

TPO Mobile

TPO Mobile Compatibility Checker

Depends on the SIM/Region - Supports all 4 major networks

TracFone

TracFone Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900

BANDS: 2, 4, 13, 25, 26, 41

Twigby

Twigby Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 700, 800, 1900

BANDS: 0, 1, 5, 12

U.S. Cellular

U.S. Cellular Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 12

Ultra Mobile

Ultra Mobile Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 700, 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 AWS 1

BANDS: 2, 4, 5, 12, 17, 25

US Mobile

US Mobile Compatibility Info

FREQUENCIES: 800, 1900

BANDS: 2, 4, 13

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 850, 1900

BANDS: 25, 26, 41

Bring Your Own Phone support currently limited to select iPhones

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile Compatibility Checker

FREQUENCIES: 800, 1900

BANDS: 2, 4, 13

Xfinity Mobile

Currently does not support bringing your own phone

More Info at Xfinity


If you’d like to check multiple phones or carriers, there’s also a few online tools to help... 

Most of these work in a similar fashion. You’ll provider the carrier you want to check and the exact model of your phone and the tool will let you know if the phone is a good fit for that network.

Our two favorite options are:

 

Just remember, supporting the frequencies of a specific carrier doesn’t matter if they don’t have good coverage in your area. 

Always check coverage in your area using a tool like RootMetrics or use the links in our carrier summaries to view the official coverage maps.


To Summarize

The ability to use your phone on a different carrier can help to save you money or use your phone while traveling abroad.

You’ll need an unlocked phone in most cases.

From there, just check the frequencies used by the network you’d like to use and compare them to the frequencies supported by your phone.

With good coverage, more matches will mean better service.



We hope this helped to clear up confusion about how mobile phones work and helped save you money. All information was accurate at the time of writing, but the mobile world changes fast. If you notice anything amiss or have further questions, please contact us or leave a comment below!