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What Features Do the Various Wireless Carriers Offer?

written by paul bush posted on February 2, 2018

We are addicted to our phones. These little boxes of life give us the capabilities to seamlessly stream Netflix or Hulu, update spreadsheets and respond to emails for work, all from wherever we are at the moment–whether we’re on a train commuting to and from work or waiting in line at the grocery store. But what if you aren’t getting the most out of your phone? Often, we view the specs of the phone and the wireless carrier as two separate mechanisms, when in reality this isn’t the case.

Did you know that your wireless carrier could have an impact on which features you can use on your phone?

Wireless Carriers

Which carrier is best? Typically, we choose our carrier based on price, internet speed, and signal strength. While these are important, they aren’t the only differences between carriers. The biggest wireless carriers in the US are AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile. Verizon and AT&T dominate the wireless carrier market at 34% and 33% respectively. While Sprint and T-Mobile try to maintain their portions of the market at 15% and 18% respectively.

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all offer the following 8 features for their iPhone users.  

  1. FaceTime over cellular data,
  2. LTE,
  3. Unlocking,
  4. Visual Voicemail,
  5. VoLTE,
  6. Personal Hotspot,
  7. Wi-Fi Calling and
  8. Wi-Fi Calling on supported cloud-connected devices.

Sprint offers all but one—They don’t provide VoLTE.

What are these features? When shopping for a carrier, you should ask yourself a few questions specifically about these features and how they will affect your use of your phone. Ask, “Which ones do I need, and which ones can I live without?”

  1. FaceTime is Apple’s video calling technology. It allows you to place a video call between compatible devices such as the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Apple computers. Usually, this feature is only provided through the use of Wi-Fi, although certain carriers will allow you to use FaceTime over cellular data.
  2. LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution. While a network might be the old version of 3G and the newest version of 4G, LTE allows the phone to work on the 4G. In a sense, LTE provides your phone the opportunity to keep up with the technology, even if it wasn’t available when the phone first came out.
  3. Unlocking is the feature that allows you to free yourself from one wireless carrier. A carrier locks your phone to force you to remain with them. If you were to switch carriers, you wouldn’t be able to use that phone on the new plan, unless the phone was unlocked. Unlocking your phone is fairly easy but comes at a cost. If your carrier doesn’t support unlocking your phone, then you will be stuck with that carrier for the life of your phone. If your carrier does allow unlocking feature, then you must fill out a form using information such as the account holder’s name and address, as well as the serial and IMEI number for your phone. After the form is processed, you’ll receive a code that allows your phone to be unlocked. Both AT&T and T-Mobile permit you to start this process online. Sprint allows customers to unlock their devices via an online chat or by phone, but they don’t allow their iPhones to be unlocked. Verizon seems to be ahead of its competitors as their phones don’t need a code to work on another carrier.
  4. Visual Voicemail is a new feature that allows you to view your voicemails in any order on your device. This essentially converts your voicemail into an inbox similar to your email. You can scroll through your messages to select which one you want to listen to, or which ones you want to erase.
  5. VoLTE stands for Voice Over Long-Term Evolution. It allows you to make voice and video calls over the LTE network. While LTE provides the phone with higher processing speeds for uploads and downloads, VoLTE provides a seamless experience during calls.
  6. Personal hotspots are one of the most popular features of cell phones. Personal Hotspots allow you to use your cell phone to create a Wi-Fi network. This is beneficial if you’re in a crunch to complete a work project, but you’re in a location that doesn’t offer a Wi-Fi network. You only need to enable the Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone, then connect your computer or device to that network. Once connected you can then browse the web, respond to emails, or complete your report, all through the use of the cellular data from your phone.
  7. Wi-Fi Calling allows you to make domestic calls and receive calls without any additional charge. This is great because there’s no impact on your voice call airtime usage since it uses the Wi-Fi network instead of cellular data. Additionally, you can also use this feature to send and receive text messages, but you will be charged according to your cellular plan.
  8. Wi-Fi Calling on supported iCloud connected devices means that you can complete these same tasks on your other iCloud devices such as tablets and computers.

The Take-Home Message

It’s a good idea to be aware of what features each carrier supports. If you don’t need all of these features, this helps you narrow down your search and save money in the long run. If you do need these features, it is important to do your research. The worst thing would be to get locked into a carrier that doesn’t support all the features that you require. The next time you need to pick a carrier for your wireless services, know that your choice not only affects your cell tower coverage but also what features you’ll be able to use on your phone.

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