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Is changing cell providers worth the hassle?

Monday - 6/16/2014, 4:08am  ET

manreadingphone.jpg

By Ken Colburn, Data Doctors

PHOENIX, Arizona -- Q: How much of a hassle is switching a group of phones for our business from one carrier to another?

A: In the ultra-competitive wireless industry, the incentives for switching carriers can be pretty compelling, but I strongly recommend you do some homework before pulling the trigger.

If you take advertisements at face value, all carriers claim to have the largest, fastest or best network depending upon the criteria. None of that matters if they don't happen to have a good signal where you live, work or travel.

Your first step should be researching the new carrier for quality of call, data and text service for the primary locations by everyone who will be affected.

Start by visiting the RootMetric website to get a report on the best providers for your metro area.

Once you have identified a potential carrier, have each of your employees go to Web Coverage Map and select that network at the top of the page. They can then check for call and data performance ratings by any location in your city.

If anyone travels to another market, or you have an office in another metro area, be sure to check those locations as well.

The next issue is your hardware and whether it will work on the new carrier's network. Two wireless technologies are in play: CDMA and GSM.

In the U.S., Sprint, Verizon and U.S. Cellular use CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, which means you won't be able to use your existing phones if you are switching platforms.

This isn't necessarily a deal-killer as you'll often be offered subsidies or incentives to make this part of the conversion cost-effective.

Sorry, wrong number

The next issue is the process of porting your existing numbers over to the new carrier.

Despite the FCC's attempts to make moving from one carrier to another easier with their Local Number Portability (LPN) rules, you can expect to experience some disruption during the switch.

In general, it will take at least 24 hours for the number-porting process to complete, which means that your phone will have a temporary number during that period.

During the porting period, any phone calls or text messages that go to your permanent number will not be received while your phone is still on the temporary number.

I'd recommend you do two things to minimize the disruption: Do the conversion over a weekend, and have a second phone with your old SIM card or use your old phone for a couple of days so you don't miss any calls or text messages.

Depending upon which phones you have, you may also need to get unlock codes from your existing carrier in order for the device to work on the new network. Getting these codes can also take time, so plan accordingly.

Even if you don't make the switch, shopping the competition (especially if you have a large number of phones) and threatening to make the switch is a good way to make sure your current provider is giving you the best deal.

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