TracFone Wireless

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/ Updated: April 24, 2008 2:43 AM PDT

Editor's note: Because evaluating wireless coverage requires experience with the network in a wide variety of physical locations, CNET does not rate wireless carriers. We can, however, tell you everything you need to know about the major carriers. We invite your feedback and ratings in our user opinions section--the more input we get from around the U.S., the better our users can evaluate coverage at a national level.

TracFone is a Mobile Virtual network Operator that serves 10 million customers nationwide. The carrier offers services under three brands: TracFone, Net10 and Safelink. The latter is a government-sponsored program that provides a free cell phone and airtime for income-eligible customers. Though all service is prepaid, rates, service options, and handset selection will differ between the two brands. Unlike most carriers, the carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones, though handsets are limited to basic models from Motorola and LG. TracFone does not use contracts nor does it conduct credit checks, but customers are required to keep a balance of air time and days of service. Also, while customers have to activate their phones, they do not pay activation fees. Originally launched in 1996 as Topp Telecom, it changed its name to TracFone in 2000. It is now a subsidiary of Mexico City-based América Móvil, which operates wireless service throughout Latin America.

Things you should know:

  •  TracFone does not permit international roaming, but it does offer international long distance. Also, you can choose to provide friends and family in Canada or Mexico with a local phone number in their area. Calls made to that number will then forward to your U.S. number.
  •  TracFone offers prepaid service only.
  •  All services include messaging options.
  •  You'll need to keep an account balance to avoid losing your phone number. Purchased airtime does not expire.
  •  TracFone neither charge activation fees nor does it conduct credit checks.
  •  Your handset choice, rates, and service options will depend on which brand (TracFone or Net10) you use.
  •  The carrier offers both CDMA and GSM phones. However, the handset selection is limited to basic models from Motorola and LG.
  •  As an MVNO, TracFone does not operate its own network. Rather, it uses the networks of most of the major carriers.

Fast facts:

  •  Subscribers: 10 million
  •  Coverage: TracFone's coverage is nationwide. As with all carriers, reception will vary because of location.
  •  Technology: CDMA; GSMA
  •  3G network: No
  •  Streaming video service: No
  •  Music download service: No
  •  Push-to-talk: No
  •  Prepay plans: Yes
  •  Family plans: No

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TracFone Wireless

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