Have you ever lost your phone? How long did you have to go without it for? A few hours can be stress-inducing; a few days and you’re approaching full-on panic. Our phones help us feel connected. They provide us with some trusty apps and resources like maps, on-demand rides and food, and a way to get in touch with friends, family members, or basically, everyone we need to get our stuff done. It’s only when we’re suddenly without our phones – and mobile service – that we suddenly realize just how much we rely on them, and how important they are.
That’s why it’s mobile phone service of the first things you need to get set up as a student, especially if you’re arriving to the US for the first time. It’s not enough that you have a phone – you need to know if your phone will work in the US. To make sure that you’re never without the ability to use your phone and ensure a seamless transition, there are a couple things that are essential to your phone working in the US: compatibility and coverage.
When we refer to “compatibility,” we’re referring to whether or not your phone or device will work with the service you’re choosing. You might have heard the acronyms “CDMA” or “GSM.” These terms just refer to “multiple access technologies. They’re ways for people to cram multiple phone calls or internet connections into on radio channel.”
What does this mean for you? Carriers who use GSM technology put customer information on SIM cards, versus carriers who use CDMA who use “network-based white lists to verify subscribers,” and who require you to switch phones with their permission. As technology improves though, more carriers are moving away from GSM and CDMA, but that doesn’t mean you can completely disregard it.
Because some CDMA phones don’t have SIM card slots, you wouldn’t be able to transfer it to another network. Some devices on CDMA do have a SIM slot, you might need to contact your carrier to “unlock” your device to use on another network. GSM phones are easier to transfer to other networks and will have the SIM card slot. As you’re deciding what mobile phone service you want to use, you’ll want to see if your phone is compatible as a CDMA or GSM device to make your transition easier – and also ensure you can make the most out of that service.
Coverage refers to the signal strength of your mobile phone carrier, and where that signal extends to. Many carriers will provide a “coverage map” so that you can see how far their signal and network extends, allowing you to determine if you’d have good “service.” Good service really just means that you’ll be able to make calls and send texts easily, with little disruption or distortion during the call, and with speed when making a text.
There are a few factors that can influence how well you’re covered by your carrier, including “proximity to a cell site, physical obstacles and signal interference…or natural disturbances,” like severe weather or the landscape in the area. Sometimes, even being in a crowded or busy place can cause delays or disruptions to your service. There are some areas across the country where little or no signal can be found, commonly referred to as “dead zones,” which make it impossible to make a phone call or send a text.
Understanding the strength and expanse of the network you’re on is important when choosing a mobile phone service provider. Most carriers include coverage maps on their websites, and though these aren’t always entirely accurate (and can’t account for exact conditions or circumstances), they provide a good baseline indicator of whether you’ll be able to use your phone.
Finding a mobile phone provider that is compatible with your phone and offers good coverage in the area you’ll be living in will ensure that you can enjoy all of the features of your phone and mobile phone service.