Data Doctors: How can I tell if my Sprint phone will work on the T-Mobile network?

FILE – In this April 27, 2010 file photo, a woman using a cell phone walks past T-Mobile and Sprint stores in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Q: How can I tell if my Sprint phone will work on the T-Mobile network?

A: The acquisition of Sprint by T-Mobile was made official when the two companies merged on April 1.

While this merger will lead to changes down the road, for now, it’s business as usual for customers of both networks.

Both brands will continue to exist and operate the same way they did before the merger, including the pricing and features of your current plan. T-Mobile was required to agree not to raise prices for Sprint customers until at least 2023.

Will you need a new phone?

There are two things you’ll need to know about your phone to understand which networks it’s compatible with: Is it locked or unlocked, and which communication platform does it use?

A locked phone is tied to a specific network, while an unlocked phone can be used on any network. Any locked phone that is no longer part of a contract or paid-off can be unlocked by contacting the carrier for the specific instructions.

Sprint and T-Mobile operate on two different transmission platforms: Sprint uses CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), and T-Mobile uses GSM (Global System for Mobiles).

If you have an older phone, it’s probably a CDMA only device, meaning it won’t be able to connect to a GSM network.

If you purchased your phone in the past couple of years, it’s very likely to have the ability to work on either network or, in the case of Sprint-T-Mobile customers, switch back and forth as you move around.

Check via your IMEI

Every phone has a 15-digit identifier unique to that device, known as the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity). You can access your IMEI by going to your phone’s dial pad and dialing *#06#. 

T-Mobile has a website that allows you to check the compatibility of your phone using the IMEI.

The value of the merger

The primary driver for this merger was the combination of the radio spectrum owned by each of the carriers, especially as it pertains to 5G.

There are three different frequency ranges of 5G, generally referred to as low-band, mid-band and high-band.

Low-band has the widest coverage with the slowest speeds, while high-band has the highest speeds with the smallest coverage.

High-band frequencies also have a tough time penetrating structures, so there can be a greater impact on performance when inside a building. Low and mid-band frequencies are less affected by structures.

T-Mobile has been building a mostly low-band network for the greatest coverage, with a few areas that use high-band transmitters.

Sprint has been the only carrier primarily focused on building a mid-band 5G network, which, combined with T-Mobile’s network, creates a multitiered approach to rolling out 5G.

The best network?

Verizon, AT&T and Sprint-T-Mobile all have different strategies for rolling out 5G, and it’s just too early to tell which one will be the best for any given situation.

Where you live (rural, suburban or urban areas), how much you travel around the country and the device you’re using to connect will always be the major factors in determining the “best network” for you.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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