This evening I and a few friends were hanging out in front of the miniature apartment complex next to my school (I have no pretense of privacy). One had his Verizon iPhone 4 out. The discussion for a minute or two turned to how much he was paying for his cellular service ($40 per month plus change for an add-a-line on a family plan), after which he mentioned that, once his Verizon contract was, up, he’d switch his phone to CricKet and pay a little more, but in return get unlimited everything without the need to be on his parents’ family plan. “it’s the same network as Verizon anyway,” he said.


The above misconception is surprisingly common, so I don’t blame anyone for espousing it, however CricKet actually runs their own cellular network in many areas of the United States. They own 1900MHz spectrum in some areas (compatible with the iPhone), 1700MHz (AKA AWS, which is the band where T-Mobile has its better-than-2G network) in others (not compatible with the iPhone).

Beyond those areas, they contract with Sprint (and possibly other carriers) for cellular service. Some carriers (like Sprint) allow all phone functions to be used, including 3G data, without roaming charges. Others, not so much. You might be able to call and text without additional charges, depending on the plan you choose…but that’s about it. CricKet will sell service in areas not covered by their own network (their phones use Sprint as the primary carrier there), however those areas don’t have the unlimited-minute plans that are the hallmark of CricKet-owned-and-operated territories.

MetroPCS is in a similar situation, as a regional unlimited carrier similar to CricKet (except serving different areas with a network that in many locations has skipped from 2G to 4G LTE). They have their own network in some areas (like Dallas, Las Vegas and much of Florida) however if you venture beyond those areas you’re roaming on someone else. Unlike CricKet however, they only sell their service in their home coverage area. On the plus side, MetroPCS has LTE (AKA 4G) overlaid in many of their markets, though due to limited spectrum availability the service isn’t much better than what you’d see from a 3G phone on other carriers.

Now, if you’re looking for a Verizon-based cellular carrier, you can get one, provided you’re willing to keep your data usage way down. The carrier in question is Page Plus Cellular; $30 per month buys 1200 minutes, 3000 text messages and 100MB of data, $45 buys unlimited minutes and texts plus 20MB of data, and $55 ups the 20MB to 300MB. You’ll have to buy your own phone (from somewhere, which could include Page Plus’s website or dealer network) but there’s no contract, and $55 per month wouldn’t even cover the bare minimum single-line smartphone package on Verizon proper. Speaking of Verizon proper, roaming off their network on Page Plus costs 29¢ per minute, but roaming off of Verizon doesn’t happen much these days anyway.

One more thing: you can put an iPhone on CricKet, though it will only work on their network where they’re using PCS (1900MHz) spectrum. In areas where they’re AWS-only, the phone will roam on Sprint if they’re available. I won’t go into how to get the iPhone running on a carrier other than its own (other than noting that only the Verizon or Sprint iPhone 4 can be used on CricKet); that’s what Google is for.