There are four major network operators in the US: Verizon, at&t, T-Mobile and Sprint. All of them offer a diverse set of smartphones from many major brands. When a new smartphone is released, it goes to all four carriers. A smartphone, in fact, isn’t designed with a specific carrier in mind, i.e., a Galaxy S8 looks the same no matter which carrier you get it from. However, all phones aren’t created equal when it comes to their network compatibilities.
The four major US carriers use two distinct cellular technologies to deliver services to their subscribers. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology (code division multiple access) whereas at&t and T-Mobile adopted the universal GSM technology (time division multiple access or TDMA to be specific). The difference between the two cellular technologies is huge and not the subject of this article, but for the sake of the story, I must at least clear the basics.
CDMA network uses a phone module to connect to a cell tower for voice and 3G data. On the other hand, GSM only needs the sim card to connect to a cell tower for voice and data. This is why any GSM phones work with any GSM networks like at&t or T-Mobile given that the phone supports the frequency of that network. CDMA carriers, previously, didn’t use a sim card until LTE but GSM carriers always needed a sim card. Now all four carriers deliver high speed internet via 4G LTE which only requires a sim card.
Now returning to the core of this article where I must explain why I claimed that the Verizon phones have advantages over others. First and foremost, Verizon phones are equipped with both CDMA and GSM cellular technologies. That means, Verizon phones are compatible to work with most of the GSM and CDMA carriers worldwide. That being said, a Verizon phone will also work on at&t, T-Mobile, Sprint and other prepaid carriers in the US. In contrast, phones offered by at&t and T-Mobile are only compatible with GSM carriers, and will not connect to a CDMA carrier like Verizon or Sprint. It’s like buying a radio that only connects to a select number of radio channels instead of all the available channels in a given area. Speaking of radio, cell phones are radios with something more.
And the final point, Verizon phones are unlocked from day one which makes a huge difference in terms of portability. Verizon, in their Device Unlocking Policy, states that “We do not lock our 3G and 4G devices.” So, a Verizon customer can travel with a phone anywhere and connect with any network of choice whether it’s a CDMA or GSM. On the contrary, phones offered by the remaining three carriers are locked and can’t be used on a different network without unlocking or carrier’s permission which isn’t always available until the device is paid off. An at&t phone will work on T-Mobile and vice versa when unlocked but will not breathe on Verizon or Sprint or on any other CDMA carriers at all times.
In conclusion, Verizon customers are independent than others when it comes to inter-network portability and this makes Verizon phones worth more than others. Until all carriers get on board with LTE-only for simultaneous voice and data connectivity, the above mentioned differences will remain significant.