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CDMA in the United States

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Many users have asked, why major operators in the US like Verizon and Sprint on CDMA 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 But for various reasons, this exclusion seems now outdated.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.
  • 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. Check other sources for that.

Basics Edit

Until 4G/LTE has arrived, the cellular world in the US was split into different systems, that were not compatible. CDMA technology is used in only a few countries of the world. But in the US it is 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 only buy a Verizon/Sprint phone or modem but you could use it only on their own network and nowhere else.

The adoption and implementation of 4G/LTE changed the game. Now, both CDMA- and GSM-providers use the same 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 are starting to think of crossing the barriers.

Opening up of CDMA Edit

The CDMA providers had to react first as their system was clearly on the loosing side. Their devices could not be used abroad at all, not even on roaming as 98% 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 high-class CDMA devices access to GSM networks for the first time. These devices are now 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 has at least one GSM provider. This is why it's still tricky to use a GSM device on Verizon and impossible on Sprint, as it's shown below.

Verizon Wireless Edit

Verizon-0

Verizon is the largest cellular service provider in the US. They have 137 million subscribers in 2015, but only 5.7 million prepaid customers.

For 2G their CDMA uses an own system, as well as for 3G that is called EVDO and both are totally incompatible with GSM.

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 is available to prepaid customers. Verizon's LTE mainly uses 700 MHz (band 13) with supplemental coverage on 1700 MHz (AWS, band 4), that are some of the same frequencies used by AT&T and T-Mobile too.

BYOD Edit

The idea is to bring your own device (BYOD) and register it on Verizon. The problem is, that Verizon only lets certain phones on their system. CDMA users from Japan, China or Canada should check frequencies and this list, 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.

As a GSM user you can only think of using Verizon carrying one of the new high-end smartphones with LTE like the iPhones 6 or 7. In addition to all Verizon-branded phones, the Nexus 5X, 6 and 6P and the 3rd generation Motorola Moto G Pure Edition. A Verizon SIM is required when activating LTE phones. All these phones need automatically Verizon's Prepaid Smartphone plan. For tablets, Verizon still accepts only their own branded devices (more info: here).

Availability Edit

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.

Top-up Edit

Verizon offers may 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 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.

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: 2 GB
  • $ 50: 5 GB
  • $ 70: 10 GB

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.

Bringing a smartphone from another carrier Edit

In 2015 Verizon started to be more flexible to bring in devices from other carriers. They started a program to activate new iPhones 6 and Nexus 6 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 an unlocked iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, 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.

So far only the Nexus 6, iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, and iPad Air have been reported to work but other devices that support Verizon's LTE bands probably do. Likely candidates include the Nexus 7, iPad Mini 2 and Mini 3 and Motorola Moto X Android Pure. U.S. Cellular phones have been reported to work with SIM swapping, so it might be possible to activate them on Verizon now.

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 need to activate the SIM in a Verizon phone first and put it in your phone later. Even then, problems have been reported getting non-Verizon phones to activate on the network, even though it is theoretically possible. 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 EVDO, you won't have any fall-back at places without 4G/LTE coverage
  • your phone needs to support Verizon's VoLTE to carry voice
  • some features may not work, such as Time Sync, Visual Voicemail and SMS

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, 1 week
  • $ 20, 1 GB, 1 month
  • $ 35, 2 GB, 2 months
  • $ 60, 5 GB, 2 months
  • $ 100, 10 GB, 2 months

Tethering Edit

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) Edit

Red pocket
Red 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.

BYOD Edit

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

For more info check Red Pocket Mobile in the AT&T and T-Mobile sections.

Straight Talk, Net10, Tracfone (on Verizon) Edit

These three operators all belong to the America Móviles 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.

BYOD Edit

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 Edit

Activation codes for Verizon devices are available from their website and vendors like Walmart.

Pricing and more info Edit

Generally prices for data are the same on all networks. So check their brands on the T-mobile and AT&T page.

Sprint Edit

Sprint

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 EVDO like Verizon, both not compatible to GSM. For 4G/LTE they now use 800 MHz (band 26), 1900 MHz (PCS, band 25) and 2500 MHz (band 41 in TDD-LTE).

BYOD Edit

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.

It's not easy to buy Sprint SIMs as Sprint doesn't sell them online and Sprint store personnel often refuse to sell or give SIMs to anyone who isn't a Sprint customer. If you have an Apple device, try asking at an iStore which have been reported to hand out free Sprint SIMs for the asking. You can also find Sprint SIMs on eBay and Amazon Marketplace, but the most reliable source seems to be Sprint MVNO Ting, which sells all eight Sprint SIMs for $9, plus shipping and taxes which bring the total cost up to about $15.

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 or RingPlus. Here is a list from Ting.

The hardest part about using a non-Sprint phone on the Sprint network is figuring out which SIM card to use. Unlike other operators which let you use any of that operator's SIMs that fit in your phone's SIM slot, Sprint has 8 different SIM part numbers, each of which only works with specific phone models (list). Their IMEI must be manually added to the system using what is called a "ClickIT Ticket" (if done over the phone or at a third party) or at a corporate store using the DNA tool, which may require higher-level staff (e.g. store manager) to be present to request access. Once this process is complete, you can activate your phone on a Sprint or Ting plan.

SoftBank Edit

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 Edit

Boost

Boost Mobile is the biggest reseller of Sprint network. Their devices can actually be activated in a Sprint store. But non-Sprint devices are banned from the network.

BYOD Edit

Boost Mobile allows only a number of Sprint CDMA phones to be activated on Boost. The list of allowed phones changes frequently. Check their website for the latest details.

Officially Sprint phones can only be activated at a Boost Mobile store but some users have reported success by calling Boost and asking for their Sprint phone to be "re-SKU'ed" to Boost There's a $10 fee for activating a Sprint phone on Boost. Officially Sprint phones can only be activated at a Boost Mobile store, but some users have reported success by calling Boost and asking for their Sprint phone to be "re-SKU'ed" to Boost for a $10 fee.

More info Edit

Ting (on Sprint network) Edit

Ting

Ting follows a similar restrictive policy of letting only Sprint devices on the Sprint network. So you don't have a chance with a GSM device, even an iPhone.

BYOD Edit

Ting and Virgin Mobile support BYOD of only Sprint and Sprint MVNO devices with the following exceptions: device must not be currently active on the Sprint network, device must not be blacklisted for non-payment or as lost or stolen and the phones of the Sprint or the other reseller (Boost, Ting, Virgin) must be used for 12 months on the service they were sold for ( before they can be used on any Sprint MVNO.

Virgin Mobile Edit

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not supported, only Virgin Mobile phones may be used.

FreedomPop (on Sprint network) Edit

Freedompop-840x504

This freemium operator started 2012 on the Sprint network with data plans in 3G and 4G/LTE. For specifics see AT&T and T-Mobile site. Only Sprint or Sprint-MVNO devices can be activated on the Sprint network.

BYOD Edit

FreedomPop supports Bring Your Own Sprint Device (BYOSD). Any phone that passes Sprint's MVNO Finacial Eliligibility Critera is allowed. The following types of phones should pass:

  • Used Sprint phones that have been completely paid off by the original owner completing the terms of their contract or equipment installment plan or paying an early termination fee.
  • Phones from Sprint's prepaid brands (Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile or Sprint Prepaid) that have been used for at least 12 months on the Sprint brand they were sold for.
  • Brand new Sprint postpaid phones that were purchased at full retail price from Sprint or a manufacturer store like the Apple Store for iPhones or Google Play for Nexus devices.
  • Phones purchased from independent Sprint MVNOs like Ting.
  • Effective April 17, 2016, Sprint will no longer allow new never activated Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint Prepaid phones to be activated on MVNOs. Phones from these prepaid brands must be used for 12 months on the service they were sold for before they can be activated on Sprint MVNOs, including FreedomPop.

Unfortunately the rules don't always work as advertised and some phones that should work don't. The only sure way to know, if Sprint will allow a phone to be activated on FreedomPop is by trying to activate it at http://www.freedompop.com/byod.

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