Many users have wondered, why major CDMA operators in the US like Verizon and Sprint are not being mentioned in our survey. This is explained in the Guidelines and at the beginning of United States chapter again. It's assumed that you are carrying a GSM-based device and want to use it in the US. But for various reasons, this exclusion seems now outdated. Anyway, it may confuse many readers when CDMA is now shown on the same list as most incompatibilities still exist. Unlike China or Japan, where we started to list CDMA providers, the US list is already rather long and will become even less navigable adding CDMA operators. Furthermore, this still appeals to a very limited audience, why you may be interested in such a prepaid SIM card. That's why this segment has been outsourced and gathered in a new article.
This page is a breach of our guidelines that say "GSM-only", but for some reasons it makes sense:
- We've never ignored the market leader in any country. Undoubtely, Verizon's LTE has the best coverage nationwide and the most customers within the US.
- You may be coming from Japan, China or Canada and have a CDMA-device that you want to use in the US. 95% of the countries worldwide are on GSM only, but there is the odd chance, and a lot of cheaper CDMA phones sold in China are cast-offs from Verizon and Sprint.
- Some unlocked iPhone models sold internationally contain CDMA support for Verizon and Sprint.
- Some Xiaomi models and all Google Pixels support Verizon CDMA bands.
- The barriers between both system lines are slowly narrowing. 4G/LTE has being used by both GSM and CDMA operators since a few years.
- Not having a CDMA-device, you can still think of buying or renting one to get the supreme speeds and coverage of Verizon in the US.
Note, that this article is written for a GSM device holder or any device holder coming from overseas and another network. We don't care for the domestic US market. Please check other sources for that.
Until 4G/LTE arrived, the cellular world in the US was split into different systems: CDMA (for Code Division Multiple Access) technology is still used in only a few countries of the world for 2G and 3G. But in the US it's employed by major operators like Verizon and Sprint. You could easily identify it by the non-existing SIM card. The device was electronically registered or “married” with the provider and you couldn’t change that. You could buy a Verizon/Sprint phone or modem, but you could use it only on their own network and nowhere else.
95% of providers in the world opted for GSM instead, that isn't based on CDMA, but on TDMA and FDMA (for Time and Frequency Divison Multiple Access) not compatible to CDMA. GSM systems use SIM cards for identification, but twin phones capable of both systems remained rare until 2012.
The adoption and implementation of 4G/LTE changed the game. For 4G both CDMA- and GSM-based providers use the same LTE technology and often even the same frequencies for wireless transmission. CDMA-devices now have SIM cards too and they fit in the same sized-slots like GSM SIMs. This is the reason why users start to cross barriers.
Opening up of CDMA Edit
The CDMA providers had to react first as their system was clearly on the losing side. Their devices could not be used abroad at all, not even on roaming as 95% of all countries are still on GSM-only. This was a big loss of revenue too. That's why they agreed to adopt the USIM-system for 4G/LTE giving most high-class CDMA devices access to GSM networks for the first time. These devices are now often labeled as 'world phones' meaning they can possibly roam on every network.
Opening up of GSM Edit
Unfortunately, the opening up of GSM towards CDMA progressed much slower. There was no pressure to enter new markets as every country in the world has GSM providers. This is why it's still tricky to use a GSM device on Verizon and almost impossible on Sprint, as it's shown below.
Verizon Wireless Edit
Verizon is the largest cellular service provider in the US. They have 146 million subscribers as of 2017, but only 5.43 million prepaid customers.
For 2G their CDMA uses its 1XRTT system, as well as for 3G that is called EV-DO and both are totally incompatible with GSM. CDMA is on BC0 and BC1. BC0 is the most common CDMA frequency, so most CDMA-compatible phone support it. Remember that CDMA-compatible phones are a minority, so don't assume your phone has any CDMA support unless you checked it. This being said, without CDMA you can still use LTE if your phone is compatible.
In 4G/LTE it has the best coverage, high speeds and most reliable network in the country (4G/LTE coverage map and comparision with its rivals: HERE). Verizon covers already more than 305 million or 98% of the US population over 2.4 million square miles in 2016 while T-Mobile's LTE only covers 1.4 million miles.
Since 2014 Verizon's 4G/LTE network has been available to prepaid customers. Verizon's LTE mainly uses 700 MHz (band 13) with supplemental coverage on 1700 MHz/2100 MHz (AWS, band 4), 1900 MHz (PCS, band 2), and 850MHz (Cellular, band 5) that are some of the same frequencies used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the US too.
The idea is to bring your own device (BYOD) and register it on Verizon. The problem is, Verizon only lets certain phones on their system. CDMA users from Japan, China or Canada should check frequencies as their "pay as you go" and "daily plans" are only for Verizon-branded basic phones, their new prepaid monthly plans for basic non-smartphones is even more restrictive.
In 2015 Verizon started to be more flexible to bring in devices from other carriers. They started a program to activate new iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 devices to their network (see here). The reason is that the Open Access rules to the 700 MHz spectrum prohibit it from restricting customers from using any compatible device.
Until recently, even though you put an active Verizon LTE SIM in a Nexus 6 or 7 or Pixel or an unlocked iPhone 6/6 Plus or newer, Verizon would not activate a SIM unless it was in a Verizon-branded device. That's no longer the case. Verizon is now allowing at least some non-Verizon phones to be activated. You can check if your phone is eligible on this Verizon page where you can enter the IMEI or MEID of you unlocked non-Verizon device.
As a GSM user you can only think of using Verizon carrying one of the smartphones with LTE bands 2, 4 and 13 like the iPhones 6 or 7 or Xiaomi Mi Note 2 global. In addition to all Verizon-branded phones, the Nexus 5X, 6 and 6P, Google Pixel (both US and global versions), the 4th and 5th generations of the Moto G series, LG's G and V series unlocked (G5/V20 or newer), and Samsung's Galaxy series unlocked (S7 or newer). A Verizon SIM is required when activating LTE phones. All these phones require Verizon's Prepaid Smartphone plan. For tablets, barring the iPad, Verizon still accepts only their own branded devices (more info: here).
Other phones that Verizon's activation system recognizes as not originally intended for use on their network, won't be activated. In order to get the phone to work you have 3 options:
- you need to activate the SIM in a Verizon phone first and put it in your phone later
- call tech support may be willing to get SIM- only activation
- if you get a SIM from official store with a prepaid plan, it will already be activated. No phone required, but they'll ask which phone it's for. Just name a supported phone similar to yours.
Verizon doesn't prohibit the use of non-Verizon phones on the network, but they don't recommend it and won't provide much support, if there is an issue with the phone on the network. You need to remember that:
- without CDMA and EV-DO, you won't have any fall-back at places without 4G/LTE coverage
- your phone needs to support Verizon's VoLTE to carry voice. Also VoLTE needs to be enabled on the account.
- some features may not work, such as Time Sync, Visual Voicemail and SMS
These restrictions do not apply if your phone supports CDMA BC0.
The starter kit for BYOP 4G/LTE compatible phones is called 4G SIM Activation Kit and sold for $49.99. It includes unlimited talk and text in the US and 2 GB of data. It can be ordered online to an US address, or bought in branded Verizon stores (store locator) or retailers like Target, Best Buy and Costco.
For activation go to this site or call (800) 294-6804 from another phone. Tech support is able to do a SIM-only activation without a supported device. If your device doesn't support CDMA and you want calls and messages, make sure to activate VoLTE. It can be done either by activating SIM in a supported device with VoLTE capability or contacting tech support.
Verizon offers many ways to add funds to your prepaid account. PIN cards or codes from $15 to $150 are available at Verizon stores, most convenience stores, supermarkets, chain drugstores and retailers like Best Buy and Target.
They are valid 30-365 days, depending on their amount. Verizon SIMs are reusable, inactive SIMs can be reactivated.
Automatic payments using a credit or debit card can be set up online or by calling *611 from your mobile phone or (888) 294-6804 from another phone. You can also make a one time payment with a credit or debit card online or by calling the numbers from above. Unfortunately some non-US cards are rejected, if not all.
Smartphone Plans Edit
Their monthly Smartphone Plans are their only prepaid plans for high-class phones and include unlimited voice, text and MMS in the US and texts to 170 countries for 30 days:
- $ 40: 3 GB
- $ 50: 7 GB
- $ 60: 10 GB
- $ 80: "unlimited" data: video streaming is allowed at up to 480p quality, mobile hotspot / tethering usage is excluded and during times of network congestion, "unlimited" data may be deprioritized.
Unused data can be carried over to the next month. Verizon has introduced an always-on data feature that allows you to continue using data at 128 kbps after you have used up your high-speed data allowance. Additional high-speed data can be added using "Bridge" data packages which are available in three sizes:
- 500 MB for 30 days: $ 5
- 1 GB for 90 days: $ 10
- 3 GB for 90 days: $ 20
Unlike all Verizon MVNOs, where data speeds are throttled to max. 5 Mbps, Verizon prepaid data is unthrottled. Download speeds as high as 95 Mbps have been reported, although 20 Mbps or less is typical.
Mobile Broadband Plans Edit
You will face the same restrictions with tablets and modems on their data-only Mobile Broadband plans. SIM cards need to be linked to a certified Verizon tablet or modem.
- $ 15: 500 MB for 1 week
- $ 20: 1 GB for 1 month
- $ 35: 2 GB for 2 months
- $ 60: 5 GB for 2 months
- $ 100: 10 GB for 2 months
Verizon doesn't restrict tethering on its plans. So it might be a good idea to purchase a MIFI or Mobile Hotspot to join Verizon's network and link it to your devices by WiFi. Basic Verizon-branded 4G/LTE hotspots which they call "Jetpacks" start at around $100. Third-party retailers such as Best Buy, Target, or Walmart sometimes discount them as low as $50.
More information Edit
- APN for 4G SIM cards: internet /or/ vzwinternet
- Customer Support: call *611 or (888) 294-6804
- Website: www.verizonwireless.com
Red Pocket Mobile (on Verizon) EditRed Pocket Mobile is a MVNO on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, but you have to decide which network to use and there is no roaming between them.
Note that their policy is restrictive. Red Pocket on Verizon works with clean (not reported lost or stolen or blacklisted by Verizon for non-payment) Verizon branded phones. Non-LTE Verizon prepaid phones don't work, unless they have been used on Verizon prepaid for 6 months. LTE Verizon prepaid phones work on other Verizon MVNOs but they have not yet been confirmed to work on Red Pocket.
Data Plans Edit
Only monthly plans are offered with data on Verizon, with and without 4G/LTE:
- on 2G/3G only, no LTE (all plans incl. unlimited dom. SMS):
- $19.99: 300 dom. mins, 1 GB
- $29.99: 3000 dom. mins, 500 MB
- $34.99: 300 dom. mins, 2 GB
- $39.99: unlimited dom. voice, 1 GB
- $49.99: unlimited dom. voice, 2 GB
- $59.99: unlimited dom. voice, 3 GB
- LTE plans with 4G/LTE included (and unlimited dom. SMS):
- $30.99: 3000 dom. mins, 500 MB
- $36.99: unlimited dom. voice, 1 GB
- $52.99: unlimited dom. voice, 4 GB
- $64.99: unlimited dom. voice, 6 GB
All 4G plans and 3G plans up to $29.99 are hard-capped = data stops having reached the quota. The 3G plans of $34.99 are throttled to 64-128 Kbps in that case.
More info Edit
Straight Talk, Net10, Tracfone (on Verizon) Edit
These three operators all belong to the America Móvil group and follow the same policy. All the three brands can be activated on either Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T network, but only on one of them.
BYOP of only Verizon phones is supported to be activated on the Verizon network. Activation of phones sold for Verizon prepaid is blocked unless the phone has been used on Verizon prepaid for one month for LTE phones or six months for 3G only phones.
Activation codes for Verizon devices are available from their website and vendors like Walmart.
Pricing and more info Edit
Sprint Corporation is the 4th largest cellular provider in the US fighting at this position with T-Mobile. It was created in 2005 by the merger of Sprint and Nextel and bought in 2012 by Japanese SoftBank Group.
Sprint uses CDMA and EV-DO like Verizon, both not compatible to GSM. Additionally their CDMA is on BC1 and BC10 unlike BC0 in most other countries with CDMA, so very few phones support their bands. For 4G/LTE they now use 800 MHz (band 26), 1900 MHz (PCS, band 25) and 2500 MHz (band 41 in TDD-LTE). Sprint doesn't have VoLTE, so without CDMA support you get no calls or texts.
Their coverage is smaller than other 3 providers, while getting them to work with a device not specifically designed for Sprint is extremely difficult. So we can't recommend them for travellers.
While Sprint gives SIM cards to its clients for GSM- or LTE-enabled world phones used in overseas programmed with their own number, it is even more restrictive about their own network than Verizon. As they don't own 700 MHz spectrum, Open Access rules don't apply to them.
Sprint sells their SIMs online on website. Its triple-sized SIM card fits any eligible device. If you have an Apple device, try asking in an iStore which have been reported to hand out free Sprint SIMs for the asking.
They only allow BYOD for certain devices, that they approve of: the Apple iPhones 6 and 7, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro, iPad Mini 3 and Mini 4, the Verizon version and only the Verizon version of the iPhone 5c and 5s, iPad Air and iPad Mini 2, the Google Nexus 5, 6, 5x and 6p, the Motorola: Moto X Pure Edition, Moto G4 and G4 Plus and the Samsung: Galaxy S7 Special Edition and S7 Edge Special Edition (full list here). Any phone that can work on Sprint, should also work on Sprint MVNOs like Ting. Here is a list from Ting.
Sprint whitelists the models allowed on their network and unless your device is in their supported list it will not activate or be able to use their network. Non-US versions are not supported. This applies even if your phone supports all of their bands.
Another hurdle is that officially Sprint doesn't allow prepaid with BYOD, but sometimes the store is known to activate BYOD on prepaid nevertheless.
Note that if you are visiting from Japan and your home carrier is SoftBank, you have unlimited access to the Sprint network for no additional charge if you have an iPhone 5S or above and have a flatrate monthly plan (SoftBank prepaid users are also not allowed).
Boost Mobile, Ting, Virgin Mobile, FreedomPop (all on Sprint)Edit
MVNOs restrictions on BYOD are even more stringent than Sprint's. You need to satisfy all of the above criteria and some additional MVNOs criteria. Virgin Mobile doesn't support BYOD at all. On others additional criteria include having paid used the phone on original carrier for at least 12 months if bought for prepaid.