One of the first, important things you need to do upon arrival in the US is to purchase a phone plan from a reliable telecom service provider! Though the concept of network coverage and telecom service is itself almost universal, terminology used to refer to these services in the US might be very different from the jargon used back home in your country. As a result, you may not understand what is being advertised to you on the service providers’ websites or showrooms; that was an issue I encountered when I was looking around at phone plans.
Here is a quick guide to key terms and factors to be aware of before making your decision on a phone plan and service provider in the US:
- Service provider: A telecom company providing cellular phone service. The four main ones in the US are T-mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.
- GSM vs CDMA : Two types of cellular phone networks used by service providers. Most providers globally use the GSM phone network, hence there are good international roaming provisions when it comes to GSM. CDMA is unique to the US, and is said to have more coverage than GSM. However there is not as much flexibility with international roaming/changing phone plans/companies with a CDMA network as there is with the GSM network. Service providers using GSM network are AT&T and T-mobile. Those using CDMA network are Sprint and Verizon.
- Prepaid plan vs contract plan : Prepaid plan is a phone plan that you can pay for on a monthly basis, and can be changed at any time depending on increase/decrease in your usage. A contract plan is fixed for a period (like 2 years) and generally not as flexible as a prepaid plan. Contract plans require you to show a credit history to buy them.
- Factory unlocked phone vs Contract phone: A factory unlocked phone comes without a phone plan and lets you choose a service provider whereas a contract phone is ‘locked’, or comes with a pre-registered phone plan which is valid for a fixed time (like 2 years). The initial cost of the contract phone is usually much lower than factory unlocked phones, but this is gradually paid off under contract plan costs over the period of the plan. NOTE: Do not be deceived that contract phones are cheaper than factory unlocked phones.
Factors to consider when buying a phone plan:
- Cost: Monthly costs of plans range from $25 to $60. Cost is determined by the talk-time and data capacity that comes with the plan
- Data capacity: (3G/4G) Higher the capacity, higher the speed of your internet browsing/downloading will be
- International call/roaming provisions: International calling is not as important as it used to be before the advent of apps with free messaging and low cost calling services like FaceTime, Whatsapp, Skype and Viber. However, international roaming is a handy provision for those who travel to other countries on a regular basis, like us, when going back home for vacation
Service provider websites and informational sources:
As always with any such important purchases, be sure to do your research thoroughly, ask around to see what your peers are choosing and decide what will best fit your needs. Service providers’ stores can be reached by public transport or cab from campus. Refer to google maps or ask your orientation leaders and other orientation staff if you need help finding them!