If everything goes according to AT&T’s grand plan, T-Mobile customers will be offered two choices in about a year. The first is go get sucked into AT&T with its dropped calls and legendary bad service, or they can find another carrier. Fortunately for T-Mobile customers who don’t want to be part of AT&T, there are options-probably more options than you suspected.
To find out just what those options are, I first looked for a list of every GSM carrier in the U.S. The closest I could find was a list on Wikipedia of U.S. wireless carriers. Using that list, I called every GSM carrier in the U.S., except for a few in Alaska (because of time-zone issues), and asked them if a T-Mobile customer would be welcome there. I didn’t reach all of them, but of those I talked to, the answer was a resounding “yes.” The GSM carriers out there that aren’t T-Mobile or AT&T would be delighted to have your business.
But they’re not the only ones. Verizon Wireless and Sprint are both eager to welcome T-Mobile customers, and both are willing to solve that thorny problem of international roaming. Verizon Wireless offers 14 phones that work with both CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM, and a Verizon Wireless spokesperson told me that the company is happy to unlock the SIM so that you can use foreign SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards while you travel, provided your account is up-to-date. Of the 14 Verizon Wireless phones, four are “certified pre-owned,” which is a good way to get a refurbished international smart phone at a really cheap price. To find them, visit the Verizon Wireless site, shop for phones and click on “Global Ready.”
Sprint also offers four devices that can be used internationally. To find those, go to Sprint’s site and shop for phones, then click on the “international” check box. Sprint will also let you use foreign SIM cards in their phones. In any case, choosing either Verizon Wireless or Sprint will probably give you better coverage than you had with T-Mobile, and it will avoid the problems of dealing with AT&T. Of the two services, my experience in general has been that Verizon Wireless has somewhat better coverage, and that the 3G and 4G service is better.
In addition, there are other GSM companies that operate nationally. One of the companies I talked to was Indigo Wireless, which is a regional carrier serving parts of Pennsylvania and Nebraska. But it accepts customers located anywhere. Then there is Fuzion Mobile, which is a smaller, but national GSM carrier. Fuzion Mobile is in the process of opening hundreds of stores throughout the U.S. Both these carriers offer plans that are less expensive than anything AT&T offers, and both provide their own customer service centers.
Research GSM Carriers Carefully
One thing to be aware of is that you will need to have your existing T-Mobile phone unlocked so that you can use the SIM cards from these other companies. Fortunately, T-Mobile’s practice has so far been to allow their phones to be unlocked, provided you’ve had the device for at least 90 days if you’re under contract. If you have a T-Mobile device that’s not under contract, they’ll unlock it on request. I’ve done this with the T-Mobile phones I’ve had over the years, mainly so that I could use a foreign SIM card when I travel.
In addition to the companies mentioned, there are smaller, regional GSM carriers located around the U.S., largely in rural areas. Most of these companies accept only local users because they don’t want to have high roaming costs, but if you live in an area with such a regional service, these companies are worth checking out. One of them, Cincinnati Bell, covers a large urban and suburban area in three states, and offers the same services as any national carrier.
While the ultimate decision is up to you, there are several factors to consider. One is to check with the carrier to ensure that your 3G or 4G service will work with their system. You could find yourself with a 4G T-Mobile phone that won’t do 4G because the carrier you’re using roams on AT&T’s service, and AT&T doesn’t support it. Or you could find that they’re not set up to bill for 4G, which could mean you can’t use it. You’ll need to ask to make sure.
If you use a smartphone, you will also need to make sure that the company you’re considering will work with it. Not all GSM carriers have BlackBerry support, for example.
But the good news if you’re a T-Mobile customer is that you’re not stuck with AT&T, at least after your contract runs out. You do have choices-ranging from Verizon Wireless, where you get excellent coverage and you can get phones that work internationally, to your local phone cooperative that might not have as much variety but will have a more personal touch. Even better, you might find that you can save money in the process.