FAQ: Can I Use Any Phone on a Prepaid Plan?


Prepaid plans are extremely cheap and a great way to get good service without having to pay a ton of money every single month. But, when most people think about prepaid plans, they think about all of the entry-level and inexpensive (and also very underpowered) phones that tend to go along with it. One question I get asked a lot when trying to convince people to switch is: can I use a nice phone? The short answer? Yes. But, as with everything, there are some catches.

Buying phones outright

I think this is a lot more common knowledge than it used to be, thanks to the rise of slightly more transparent phone payment programs, but smartphones are expensive. A vast majority of the really nice flagship devices, like the LG G4, the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the iPhone 6S, are in the $600 price range–some are even higher. While you can use any of the aforementioned devices with most prepaid carriers, the phones must be unlocked so that they will work with more than just the original carrier. Generally speaking, you’ll need to meet certain criteria for unlocking a device which varies from simply owning the phone to having used the service for a select amount of time. It’s worth noting that certain Sprint phones (including Boost and Virgin Mobile device) cannot be unlocked. With a growing number of phone manufacturers–Motorola and OnePlus immediately spring to mind–you can purchase devices directly from the company. These devices will be unlocked when you get them, so all you’ll have to do is makes sure it’s compatible with the network. There are also some sites on which you can purchase unlocked phones directly.

The phone must be compatible

In the United States, there are two different networks, and generally speaking, devices designed for one network may not be compatible with the other network. The two networks are:
  • GSM – this is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. It is also common overseas, and any devices you purchase overseas likely will use this network
  • CDMA – this is used by Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular
There are notable exceptions to this rule, however, so you’ll need to check with your manufacturer. Some devices, like the 2015 Moto X Pure Edition, have been designed to work on both GSM and CDMA networks and can access all the appropriate bands to get service.

How to Get Started

Once you have a device that is compatible with the prepaid carrier of your choice, then all that’s left is to activate it, port your number, and purchase the first month’s plan! Prepaid plans, as the name implies, bill users at the beginning of the month instead of the end. There are a lot of benefits with going prepaid, and several different kinds of prepaid plans and various MVNOs to consider, so make sure you do your research and you’ll see the savings immediately!]]>

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