Summary: Changing your mobile phone provider can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be! With our guide, switching cell phone carriers is easy. You just need to decide what you’ll keep, make sure your phone and plan are compatible, and find out how much data you really need in a month. Let’s get started.
Like many aspects of life, a lot of us have developed brand loyalty to our phone carriers over the years — particularly if we started out on our own plan and have stayed that way ever since. For a long time, there were only three major carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Sure, there were other options, but these were the main ones that everyone talked about it.
But what happens if those carriers no longer have your best interest in mind? Or their plans don’t fit your current needs — or your budget? Is switching providers really worth the hassle it seems to be? Well, depending on what you’re looking for, switching can be totally worth it.
Choosing a new provider is as easy. Just follow these steps and you’ll make the right call for your budget and your needs.
Step 1: Decide What You’ll Keep
There are two things that you can typically keep when switching phone carriers: your device and your number. When doing your research, you’ll want to decide if you’d prefer to keep them or make a change — or a combination of the two!
On average, people keep their cell phones for 2.92 years, a timeline that continues to steadily climb as phones get more expensive. So, if you recently upgraded your device, you may be reluctant to give it up. Many plans will let you bring your own device, but some offer other perks (a discount or access to free streaming) for customers who buy a new device or trade their old one in (something that can come at a cost). As you’re considering what you want from your mobile phone service, what device you want is something to consider.
Next, decide if you’d like to keep your number. The FCC has essentially mandated that customers can keep their mobile numbers (a process called porting), but there are scenarios where it’s not possible. If you’re attached to your 10 digits, be sure to ask any providers you’re considering switching to.
If you’re open to a new cell phone number, the world is your oyster. Just be sure to let family, friends, and any other important parties (think: financial institutions, doctors’ offices, employers, etc.) know where they can reach you.
If you decide to port your number, you’ll need to wait until after the transfer is completed to cancel your old service. In some cases, porting the number will automatically close your account. Just be sure to wait until your new provider is up and running. Otherwise, you could be stuck in limbo, without service — or your number.
Step 2: Make Sure Your Phone and Plan Work Together
Once you know what mobile phone you’re looking for, be sure to choose a plan (and provider) that will play nicely together. Some phones are “locked,” meaning they’re only compatible with certain networks or carriers. This can also be the case if your phone isn’t paid off yet, or if you’re in a contract with a provider.
You can make sure your phone is unlocked and compatible with a carrier by using your IMEI number (aka International Mobile Equipment Identity). An IMEI number is basically your phone’s fingerprint, and it allows smartphones to be tracked in case they’re stolen or compromised. You can typically find this number in your phone’s settings or by dialing *#06* on your keypad. Still can’t find it? Just do a quick search of your phone model + IMEI and you can easily find instructions specific to your device.
Also be sure to check the coverage map for where you live (or often travel). Some providers have a larger network than others, and you don’t want to choose a provider who has poor coverage in your area or where your work or social life takes you.
Finally, if you have a 5G phone and you’re looking for blazing fast speeds, be sure to opt for a plan that meets those needs. 5G is still fairly new technology, so not every provider offers it. If you’re on a plan that only supports 4G, your technologically-advanced phone will never realize its full potential.
Step 3: Find Out How Much Data You Really Need
Just like when choosing a high-speed internet plan, you’ll want to figure out how much mobile data you need. While unlimited plans tend to be popular, not everyone needs them — and no one wants to pay for services they don’t use! There are a few ways to calculate just how much data you need.
First, Apple and Android phones both display the amount of data used in their settings. (You can also see a breakdown by app, which can be helpful if you’re trying to cut back on usage.) This is by period, though, so unless you reset it every month, you’ll need to do the math based on the last time you restarted a period.
Alternatively, you can look at your current plan. Your monthly statement will display each line’s data usage. Be sure to take into account any times you’ve had to purchase extra data (or pay overage fees) recently. If you’re consistently paying overage fees, an unlimited data plan may be the way to go. (Psst: unlimited plans often aren’t actually unlimited. While you won’t be charged extra fees, your speeds will considerably slow down after using a certain amount of data in a billing period.)
If your current data plan is the perfect fit, stick with that! But if you’re often brushing up against the data cap — or having to ration what you do the last week of your billing cycle — it could be time for an upgrade. Plus, as streaming, games, and more require better graphics, the amount of data required to run them will increase, too. It’s always good to have some growing room.
Make the Right Call
Finally, you’ll want to find the right provider. One that allows you to keep or upgrade your phone and number, that offers coverage near you, and that has plans to fit your lifestyle and budget. Once you’ve made the switch, consider looking at your home internet plan, too. You don’t have to stick with a provider that constantly raises rates, imposes data caps, and limits your connection. Instead, switch to EarthLink. We’ve got fiber internet with speeds up to 5 Gigs and no speed throttling or data caps. Now that’s an easy decision.