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 But for various reasons, this exclusion now seems outdated.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, which is 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. Undoubtedly, 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. In addition, Motorola's G-series of phones sold in the US support Verizon and Sprint's CDMA and LTE bands. And the list of Android OEMs making phones capable of working on Verizon and Sprint in addition to the GSM operators is growing.
- The barriers between both system lines are slowly narrowing. 4G/LTE has being used by both GSM and CDMA operators within the last 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.
- 1 Basics
- 2 Verizon Wireless
- 3 Red Pocket Mobile (on Verizon)
- 4 Straight Talk, Net10, Tracfone (on Verizon)
Sprint(merged to T-Mobile)
- 6 Boost Mobile
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 was 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 or 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 Division Multiple Access) not compatible to CDMA. GSM systems use SIM cards for identification, but phones capable of utilizing 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 are starting to cross barriers.
Opening up of CDMA
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 for 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
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 is the largest cellular service provider in the US. They have 146 million subscribers as of 2017, but only 5.43 million prepaid customers.
2G is on Verizon's CDMA network which uses a 1xRTT protocol, with 3G running on EV-DO/eHRPD, and both are totally incompatible with GSM. Verizon CDMA is on 850 MHz (BC0) and 1900 MHz (BC1). BC0 is the most common CDMA frequency, so most CDMA-compatible phones 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.
4G/LTE is on 700 MHz (B13) primarily, with supplemental coverage on 1700 MHz (B4, B66), 1900 MHz (B2), and 850MHz (B5). It has the best coverage, competitive speeds and most reliable network in the country (4G/LTE coverage map and comparison with its rivals: HERE). Verizon covers more than 305 million people, or 98% of the US population over 2.4 million square miles as of 2016.
Since 2014, Verizon's 4G/LTE network has been available to prepaid customers.
The idea is to bring your own device (BYOD) and register it on Verizon. The problem is, Verizon activation depending on model may be tricky. In 2015, however, 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. However, this only applies to LTE. In recent days, they have in fact started blocking activation of devices that have CDMA, but not their LTE bands. This is due to the upcoming phaseout of their 2G and 3G network; it is no longer being maintained and will be totally shut off on December 31st, 2020.
Until recently, even though you put an active Verizon LTE SIM in an unlocked Android or an unlocked iPhone, 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 if you are carrying one of the smartphones with Verizon's LTE bands included like the iPhone 6 series or newer. In addition to all Verizon-branded phones, the Nexus 5X, 6 and 6P, Google Pixel series (both US and global versions), the Moto X, G, and E series unlocked (4th generation or newer), LG's G and V series unlocked (G5/V20 or newer), and Samsung's Galaxy series unlocked (S7 or newer) would also work. 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, they may be willing to provide a SIM- only activation depending on the agent.
- If you get a SIM from an authorized retailer 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 is 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, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy.
For activation go to this site or call (800) 294-6804 from another phone. Tech support should be 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, Tablet and Mobile Broadband/Jetpack Plans
Verizon's monthly prepaid plans cover all allowed classes of devices, spanning basic and smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband hotspots (known on Verizon as Jetpacks) and include unlimited voice, domestic/international (over 200+ countries covered) text, plus data with a set amount of high-speed data for 30 days (data only for tablets and Jetpacks):
- $35: 1 GB
- $40: 6 GB
- $50: 16 GB
- $70: unlimited (video streaming is allowed at up to 480p quality, mobile hotspot / tethering usage is excluded and during times of network congestion, data can be deprioritized at Verizon's discretion)
Verizon's 16 GB and unlimited plans also include unlimited international calling from the US to Mexico, Canada, Guam, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Also, if you have multiple people signing up at once, you can get a multi-line discount of $10 (6 GB plan), $15 (16 GB plan), or $20 (unlimited plan) per additional line after the first.
Verizon offers its prepaid subscribers an international roaming feature called TravelPass. For $5 per day, you can use your do mestic talk, text and data allowances while you travel to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. For $10 per day, you can use your domestic talk, text and data allowances in over 30+ countries. (More info and map []). While a tempting option for North American trips, the price point for outside North America makes this option less appealing as opposed to getting a prepaid SIM for the next country you're visiting.
You can purchase more high speed data through My Verizon or the My Verizon app on your prepaid smartphone (prepaid unlimited plans excluded). More high-speed data can be added by using "Bridge" data packages available in three sizes (unconfirmed as of November 2018 if the data add-on prices are still current):
- 500 MB for 30 days: $5
- 1 GB for 90 days: $10
- 3 GB for 90 days: $20
Unlike most Verizon MVNOs, where data speeds are throttled to a max of 5 Mbps, Verizon prepaid data is unthrottled. Download speeds as high as 95 Mbps have been reported, although 20 Mbps or less is typical.
Verizon doesn't restrict tethering on its non-unlimited 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.
- 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)
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.
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.
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.
Straight Talk, Net10, Tracfone (on Verizon)
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.
BYOD 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
Sprint (merged to T-Mobile)
Sprint Corporation was 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 used CDMA's 1xRTT and EV-DO/eHRPD (2G & 3G) like Verizon, both not compatible to GSM. Additionally, their CDMA is on 1900 MHz (BC1) and 800 MHz (BC10), which is unlike the 850 MHz (BC0) that's in most other countries with CDMA, so very few phones support their bands. 4G/LTE is on 800 MHz (B26), 1900 MHz (B25) and 2500 MHz (B41 in TDD-LTE). Sprint only very recently did a soft launch of VoLTE, which is currently limited to certain Sprint Androids and newer CDMA-enabled iPhones, so without CDMA support you get no calls or texts.
In 2018/9 a merger with T-Mobile USA was proposed and in 2019/20 approved by the authorities. This means that customers of Sprint and parts of Sprint's frequencies will be moved to T-Mobile network under the merger. The brand Sprint will disappear from August 2020.
Note that in preparation for Boost Mobile's sale to Dish, a transition away from the old back-end with the BYOD restrictions is in progress. You can check your local Boost dealer or retail store on arrival to see if they are stocking "new" Boost SIM cards that support the T-Mobile network. If they have the "new" SIM cards, they will work on any device that supports T-Mobile's frequency bands (see T-Mobile chapter).