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4 things to weigh before switching carriers

From CNET Magazine: In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon talks about the benefits and pitfalls of switching wireless carriers.


Wireless companies continually offer great deals designed to entice you to their service. Just watch out for pitfalls that could make you regret leaving your current carrier.

Dear Maggie,

I'm tired of paying sky-high prices for wireless service from my carrier. I'm thinking of switching to a less expensive service from a different company. But I'm a little nervous I might regret my choice. Any advice?


Bargain Browsing Betty

Dear Bargain Browsing Betty,

The wireless market has become more competitive as carriers of all sizes try to win over new customers. Some companies even advertise free service if you use Wi-Fi for making phone calls and surfing the Net. This is great news for consumers, but figuring out whether these deals will work for you can be tricky. Here are a few things you need to consider.

1 What's the coverage?

Pricing is important, but network coverage is everything. If you can't get a signal where you work, live and play, that cheap service isn't worth much. Look at carrier coverage maps and talk to people who already use that service. Some carriers, such as T-Mobile, will offer dissatisfied customers a refund. Considering a service from Walmart or TracFone? Check to see which carrier network their service actually uses and whether it has the coverage you need.


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2 What does it cost to switch?

If you are still under a two-year contract, you could pay as much as $350 in early termination fees, depending on how much time remains on your contract. The good news is that several large carriers will pay those fees for you. Are you currently leasing a phone under a "no-contract" plan? Be prepared to pay off the balance before you can switch.

3 Can you keep your existing phone?

Not all cell phones work on all carrier networks. Before you decide to kick your old carrier to the curb, check whether your current phone will work on the network you're considering. Even if it does, you still need to make sure your device is unlocked or free of any software that restricts its usage.

4 Can you get the phone you want?

While it's true that all four major operators get the latest iPhone or Samsung device at roughly the same time, that's not always the case for regional carriers or wireless resellers. This is especially true for services that use a combination of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, like Google's Project Fi, Republic Wireless or Scratch Wireless. While less expensive than their competition, these hybrid Wi-Fi/cellular services require special devices.

The bottom line: Switching carriers can be nerve-wracking. A little homework ahead of time can help you steer clear of the dangers. 

Marguerite Reardon (@maggie_reardon) answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. Email yours to Please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. Follow her "Ask Maggie" page on Facebook.