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Aug 10, 2003
These are Frequently Asked Questions so there's a really good chance you might be here just to ask one of them.

Bitbucket and some other nerds kindly assembled a draft FAQ for you all. I stole this collection of knowledge and made it the Official Cellphone Shack FAQ. If a question is answered in here, don't go ask it again or you will be made fun of and possibly probated. So don't be the: "Can I put a SIM card in Verizon phones?" guy, it's answered here, dammit!

If you need something clarified and don't want a bunch of nerds teasing you because you didn't read this FAQ they made for you, it's in your best interest to mention that you did read it and didn't quite understand something.

Here's the goods:

All providers suck in some fashion. The goal of shopping around is to find the one that sucks the least for your particular use. No provider is perfect for everyone all the time.

Q: What phone should I buy?
A: For us to even begin to answer this question, we have to know several things:
  • What provider you're with, if you already have phone service
  • What features are must-haves and what features you'd like to have
  • If you've seen any phones that strike your fancy, so we know what kind of design you want
  • If you are interested in a Smartphone or BlackBerry
  • If you don't already have service, whether you want to use a phone from your prospective carrier or if you have some other phone in mind. Note that CDMA phones typically must be bought from your provider.
We can't just say "The best phone out there right now is the Samsung SPH-M620 (see what I did there?)." We need to know who you have, what you want, and what features you like to be able to make a good recommendation. If your thread doesn't have this information, I don't know very many people that will waste time answering it.

Q: [GSM/UMTS only] What changes if I buy a phone from my provider versus buying an unlocked, unbranded one from
A: If you buy your phone from your provider, it will almost undoubtedly be locked, so that it can only be used on that provider. Phones you buy 3rd party will not be locked.
Phones from your provider will probably have that provider firmware flashed on them, which may disable certain features, change the layout of the menu, and otherwise gently caress with the phone. 3rd party phones will not have this firmware, and will come with whatever the phone manufacturer intended. A phone from your provider will be 'subsidized' if you sign a new contract, which can deduct up to $200 off the purchase price of the phone. Unlocked, unbranded phones are often much more expensive than their carrier-branded counterparts, even without the subsidy.

Q: What provider should I choose?
A: Well, that depends.
  • What country are you in, and what area of the country? We'll need to know who has coverage in your area. (US goons, a ZIP code would be helpful.)
  • Do you get discounts with any particular provider or have any reason to want to choose one provider over another?
  • Do you care about whether the provider is GSM/HSDPA or CDMA? This limits your phone selection, either way.
  • Do you have friends/family on one provider that would mean you can benefit from a mobile-to-mobile calling arrangement?
  • Are you aware of roaming agreements that may be in place? Sprint can roam on Verizon and Alltel's networks, for example. This changes the coverage map.
  • How many minutes a month are you planning on using? Prepaid or an MVNO might be a better option for you.
Many other factors count as well. Remember, asking randomly "hay doods who's phone should I get" isn't going to get many answers.

You can also check this article out, it's numbers you can call to see if your carrier will give you a discount because your employer (or the government) has a deal with them.

Q: What about data plans for this expensive (or cheap) new smartphone?
This is an evolving story, but you have two basic options: Tiered and unlimited.
  • Tiered data is sold like minutes, but instead of 500 minutes per month you get 200MB per month. The more you pay per month, the more data is included with your plan.
    If you go over your monthly amount, you may incur overage charges per MB you go over or your connection may be throttled (slowed down). If you sign a contract, make sure you're aware of your options.
  • Unlimited data has a set price per month for whatever you can use. Make sure to read the fine print about what "unlimited" really means or if that applies to roaming data as well (it probably doesn't).
Keep in mind that if you have blanket Wifi coverage on a campus, at work, and home, you may use very little data on the carrier network and can get a lower priced data plan. I've been asked by people who aren't tech savvy if Wifi counts against their monthly usage, no it doesn't. Only when your phone is using cell towers for your internet connection will data usage be counted against you.

Really the key is to figure out how much you think you'll use and shop accordingly.

Q: Prepaid? MVNO? I thought those were for people with bad credit.
A: That isn't a question. Anyway, prepaid plans, such as the ones offered by Virgin or Boost may be a better fit for you if you are an extremely low-volume user (or if you have lovely credit :v: ) Some popular prepaid providers include:

Virgin, Boost, T-Mobile, and (ugh) Tracfone.

Q: How do I know where I will be able to use my phone? Where do I have coverage?
A: Look at your provider's handy-dandy coverage map, links to which were generously provided by SpacedOut: - TMobile (GSM) - AT&T/Cingular (GSM) - Sprint (CDMA) - Verizon Wireless (CDMA) - Nextel (iDEN)

Q: What plan should I choose?
See 'what phone should I choose' and add the following:
  • How many minutes are you going to use a month? Add 20% to that and don't get any plan with a lower minute bucket. If you've never had a cell phone it is EASY to get carried away with usage and you'll run up ludicrous (40� a minute+) overage charges.
  • Do you need data services? Do you want to send SMS or MMS messages? These will all carry extra charges that run from cheap to ridiculous.
  • Do you want to share your minutes? With how many other phones/people? Remember that features generally are per line, not per account, so you can quickly exceed your base MRC with feature charges.
  • Is your desired phone a Smartphone or a BlackBerry? These phones often require expensive data plans be added for full function or to be activated at all.
  • Don't get insurance unless you have a very high-value phone or a very low amount of savings. There is a high deductible, and you may not even get the phone you had in the first place.
  • Remember that salespeople for cell phone companies get paid based on: contract length, how many features you added, and (sometimes) MRC of your plan. Generally, a two-year contract gives you modest additional savings but really ups the salesman's commission. Don't be pressured into signing one you don't want. Remember to take advantage of any trial periods your provider might offer before you are locked into a contract. If you are pressured to add features by the salesperson, add them, then call customer service as soon as you get home and remove them. Some companies (cough VZ cough) require you activate features for more than X days but fewer than Y days to get discounted phones, when after Y days you will be charged.
  • READ YOUR CONTRACT. There is a lot of legalese, yes, but it also details how you'll be charged for calls, and when, and what the upgrade scheme is, and a lot of other information. You're spending, at a minimum, $720 over a 2-year contract for service, you don't want to just throw that money away if it turns out that you got hosed.

Q: Uh, yeah, about that contract... How do I get out of it without paying that $200 Early Termination Fee?
A: This depends on your provider. For many providers, the answer now is: "You don't." Some providers will permit you to leave the contract if you move to an area that you can show has no service. Some providers will not.

All providers will suspend your service indefinitely if you are active-duty military, and are being deployed outside of the US. Not that that's ever helped anyone, but you never know.

If you can't sweet-talk your provider into letting you go ETF-free, you can always sell your contract. This involves posting an ad detailing your plan and other details, and having someone agree to accept your contract liability. Then, you initiate a process called a 'transfer of liability,' and the new person gets your contract and you get out without an ETF. There are many places that offer this service, for around :20bux:. Celltrade is one of them.

Q: What do all these acronyms mean? :confused:/:cry:
GSM - Global System for Mobile (Communications) - The phone standard used in most of the world. GSM permits you to change equipment at your leisure (through use of a SIM card,) and is the only system that works in Europe. GSM operates on four frequency bands, 800/850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz. Lower frequency bands are known for causing interference to FM radios and computer speakers.

EDGE - Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution - (Yeah, how's that for a strained acronym?) Basically, faster data than is available with standard GSM, but slower than HSDPA. Consider regular GSM data (HSCSD or GPRS, in almost every implementation) to be roughly equivalent to 33.6k, EDGE to roughly double 56k, and HSDPA to a DSL service. EDGE is comparable to 1xRTT (the lowest still-available CDMA data service.)

CDMA - Code Division Multiple Access - The phone standard used in the US, Canada, parts of Australia, and a few other countries. Requires carrier intervention to change equipment, and has very limited international roaming ability. Operates on 800 or 1900 MHz (but not the same 800/1900 as GSM.)

1xRTT - EDGE for CDMA, basically - provides roughly double 56K speeds. Basic network access as provided by Verizon and Sprint. Alltel still has some areas that use the older QNC method, that runs at approximately 28.8, but they are very rural, in areas where cellular phones period are a magic mystery.

iDEN - Integrated Digital Enhanced Network - The standard used by Nextel/Boost and MIKE in Canada. Developed by Motorola, operates on 800 MHz only. Lets you chirp all day long!*beep beep*

HSDPA/UMTS info from kalleboo and rage-saq:

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is making GSM data packet-oriented, so instead of holding on to one or more timeslots even when you're not transmitting anything, you take a timeslot only when you need to send a packet. This makes GPRS use the network much more efficiently. It has about the same top speed as traditional GSM HSCSD, but now you don't have to pay for 5 simultaneous phone calls to do it (note: no US provider ever charged for HSCSD this way. This may have been different outside the US.)

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Service) is several times faster than EDGE. UMTS UMTS has been around for a while, but AT&T (before Cingular buyout) was really the only one that deployed it, and it had very low market penetration (in the US) for several years until HSDPA. Any phone with UMTS capabilities can fall back to regular GSM with GPRS/EGPRS (EDGE) coverage. Outside the US, '3G' generally refers to UMTS, and is used to market video calling! Like the Jetsons. Only nobody uses it.

HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) uses the same frequencies as UMTS and increases the speeds even more; commonly referred to as "3G" (in the US, "Turbo 3G/3.5G" elsewhere.) Anywhere that has HSDPA/3G should also have UMTS. at&t trumpets simultaneous voice and data as a huge feature of their HSDPA network.

EV-DO - Evolution Data-Optimized - HSDPA's equivalent for CDMA networks. Branded as 'Power Vision' by Sprint or 'BroadbandAccess' by Verizon and Alltel. Does NOT permit simultaneous voice and data at the moment. Revision 0 is the slowest and most widespread EV-DO, with coverage over most cities in the US. Rev A provides a marginally faster downlink than rev 0, but a MUCH faster uplink. Rev A also permits simultaneous voice and data, but note that the only rev A devices currently on the market are data cards (as in, no phones.) EV-DO rev B promises to go up to 11Mbps in both directions, but is currently little more than a pipe dream.

SIM card - Subscriber Identity Module - This is the small chip that goes in your GSM (or Nextel) phone and contains everything about your service subscription - your phone number, voicemail number, and other data. If you move your SIM card to an (unlocked, frequency-compatible) GSM phone, you can use it on your account. Some phones permit you to save your SMS messages and phone book on your SIM card so you can truly seamlessly switch phones.

SMS - Short Message Service - 160-character messages that you can send between phones for $.10-$.15 each. If you plan on sending more than 20 or so of these a month, it is by far in your best interest to get a plan. In the US, you are charged to receive SMS messages as well.

PSMS - Premium SMS - Text 'JOKE' to 4734728294 and you'll get a joke! You'll also get $30 a month added on to your bill that your providers will NOT be cooperative about removing. Be EXTREMELY wary of any service that operates by text messaging, as the possibilty exists that you can be charged, just like calling a 900 number. If you've been snookered into one of these, try sending: quit, stop, exit, cancel, no - to the number the messages are coming from.

MMS - Multimedia Message Service - This lets you send very lengthy and large messages to other phones and to e-mail addresses, including photos, sound, and sometimes even movie clips. Sprint brands this service as 'Picture Mail.' MMS is also an extra-charge option, and some carriers charge you for data usage (at several cents PER KILOBYTE) if you don't have the MMS option on your account.

UMA - Unlicensed Mobile Access - This is basically a fancy name for phones that can use Wi-Fi to access the cellular network, creating expanded (and potentially cheaper) coverage.

WiMAX - High speed wireless data marketed as 4G (don't worry about it, calling it 4G is just fine unless you're a huge nerd). Used as a mobile and point-to-point wireless technology.

LTE - 3GPP Long Term Evolution - High speed mobile wireless data marketed as 4G (don't worry about it, calling it 4G is just fine unless you're a huge nerd).

WirelessMAN-Advanced - In case you're a huge nerd, the true 4G version of WiMAX.

LTE Advanced - In case you're a huge nerd, the true 4G version of LTE.

Q: I saw this badass phone on eBay/TV/my mom's dog's t-shirt, can I use it in [insert country]?
That depends. Is the phone compatible with your service provider? (ie: You can't use a Cingular phone on Sprint. You can't use a CDMA phone on a GSM network or the reverse, period. The large CDMA providers (Sprint, VZ, Alltel) will not activate a phone they did not sell.)
If the phone is compatible with your provider, does it have the right frequencies for your country? CDMA phones don't need to worry about this, as only provider-branded phones work in the first place, but for GSM users, your phone must have 1900 MHz, and really SHOULD have 850 MHz to be usable in the US.

Also, if it is a GSM phone (CDMA users, skip this:) the phone must be 'unlocked'. When phones are sold, they are generally software restricted so that they can only be used with the provider that sold them. This protects the provider's revenue stream, and ensures ultimate customer frustration for you. If your phone is not unlocked, you can either call your carrier and beg for a magic code to unlock it (It may help to tell them you plan on travelling overseas and want to put in a different SIM.) If they refuse to give it to you, then you can find a phone shop (not a big carrier store, but a little dodgy-looking outlet) that may have appropriate equipment to unlock your phone. If you have a crappy old Nokia phone, there are generators to unlock it on the Internet.

CDMA users: YOU CAN ONLY ACTIVATE A PHONE THAT HAS YOUR PROVIDER'S LOGO ON IT. Unless you are on Cricket or one of the other tiny regional carriers who will reflash for you, that is. The big 3 require the phone be sold by them and the ESN already in their database. You must check that your prospective phone, if you are buying it from eBay/Craiglist, has a 'clean ESN'. Since all CDMA phones have to be activated through the provider, they can block any particular phone from being activated, if it is reported lost/stolen, or if the person that had it before you didn't pay their bill. If the phone does not have a clean ESN, you CAN NOT activate it. Make SURE that the phone you are going to buy has a clean ESN.

SIM cards only work with GSM phones.

Q: What can I do to get around restrictions on my phone?
A: That depends on your provider and what phone it is. You can google for 'seem editing' if you have a Motorola phone (which is all anyone seems to complain about.) You may want to look around for a program called BitPim to transfer ringtones and pictures onto the phone if your carrier blocks you from doing so. Some adventurous souls have even flashed new firmware onto phones, but that's a bit out of the scope of a FAQ.

Q: I want a BlackBerry! What should I know?
A: BlackBerry Devices (yes, that is how you pluralize it. Yes, it's driving me crazy too.) REQUIRE a BlackBerry data plan for you to get any data access through the built-in apps. You can not use Vision, GSM data, or anything else, you MUST pay for a separate BlackBerry plan. This costs from $20 to $40 a month. BlackBerrys on the used market must be carefully checked to make sure they do not have an active IT policy applied - it is possible for you to get a BlackBerry that has MegaCo's IT policy on it and not be able to use third-party applications, or to make phone calls, or to use the camera on a Pearl. Apparently, you can remove these policies if you call your carrier (from |||||||||.) A good resource for BlackBerry specific issues is PinStack, as is BlackBerry Forums

|||||||| also tells us:
Free BES: Yes you can have a Free 1-10 user BlackBerry Enterprise Server. All you need is a PIN number from your BlackBerry device.

It is possible and pretty easy to remove an IT policy from a blackberry provided you are ready to wipe the device completely. Details here:

I have used it several times before and it works like a dream. It is a hack.

(There is also entering a BS pin 10 times on the lock screen which cryptographically nukes the phone back to factory. I forget if it removes the IT policy as well.)

The Punctillious Paragraph on Number Portability
Keeping Your Number When You Change Providers

In the US, you can take your phone number with you to another carrier as you see fit. This is called "porting." The porting process can be initiated by either the new/gaining service provider (a "pull") [most carriers are going to expect you use this method], or the old/losing service provider (a "push"). One service provider contacts the other with your phone number and a scheduled disconnect date, and they bounce back and forth for a few steps with approvals and confirmations before the number is disconnected by the old Service provider then activated by the new service provider. In actuality, this process is done through number portability vendors that connect to a national database run by NPAC, the Number Portability Administration Center, and is mostly automated. The NPAC database is an authoritative record of what company owns each number in North America. The old carrier can not refuse a port request for any reason, including because you owe them money, but can place a hold on the process under certain circumstances that must be resolved before the port can complete. The only real restriction is that your new service provider must have a switch in the same region your number is from in order to hold routing information. You will get a final bill from your old carrier shortly after your port completes. The porting process can take up to 7 business days if this is the first attempt to port a number from that block (or even more if issues are encountered), but could take as little a few hours in an ideal situation and is usually more like 24-48 hours. The final port itself completes in about a minute, but it could take up to 24 hours if the network is experiencing issues, during which time both phones might work, neither phone might work, or some other bizarre combination. If your old phone company has gone bankrupt or otherwise doesn't feel like granting your port request, it will complete without their intervention after an approximately one day timeout period has expired.
(Thanks to Alereon for correcting some and expanding on this paragraph!)

Also, if you should be in the situation where both phones are working and you need to call 911, STAY ON THE LINE, as incoming calls may or may not be delivered or they may be delivered to the wrong phone, or all sorts of other bad situations.

Please PM or email me stuff you think should be added here. I would like people to actually read this and not be discouraged by a 5 page FAQ thread, so this will remain closed.

900ftjesus fucked around with this message at 00:18 on Jul 9, 2012


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