What are Android carriers? The short answer here, is that they are wireless carriers that offer Android smartphones or devices. Obviously the majority of wireless carriers worldwide offer Android phones, and other Android devices.
So the real question that we'll be answering here, is what are wireless carriers. Which is pretty simple, they offer wireless services to your device.
What are Android carriers?
While Google might sell you an Android device, you are going to need service to be able to use that device. And that's where carriers come in.
A wireless carrier is going to provide you (the user) with service for that phone – or tablet, smartwatch, laptop, or any other device. This includes talk, text and data usage.
Not all carriers or networks are the same, and not all Android smartphones are available on each carrier. Which is where things start to get a bit interesting. For example, Verizon carries the Moto Razr foldable, but that is not available on other carriers. T-Mobile has a slower 5G network with more coverage versus AT&T or Verizon, is another example.
What are postpaid Android carriers?
There are essentially two types of wireless carriers. One is postpaid, while the other is prepaid.
In the simplest terms, the difference between the two is that with Postpaid you pay for your usage a month after the fact. And Prepaid, you prepay, hence the term "prepaid".
Postpaid has some other advantages, even though it is normally a bit more expensive than prepaid. Which includes the fact that it is going to get first dibs for speed on a tower. Wireless carriers give priority to postpaid customers, then prepaid, then MVNO customers. Basically, those paying the most, will get the best speeds.
Normally, postpaid carriers will allow you to buy phones in a monthly installment plan. This means that instead of paying $1399 (plus tax) for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra up front, you can spread it out over 24 or even 36 months. Making smaller payments.
Typically, postpaid customers will get features that prepaid customers do not. For example, on T-Mobile, postpaid customers on its Magenta plan can get Netflix and Quibi for free. That's a $13 value, and a ton of free content that you can watch. Over on Sprint, postpaid customers get free Hulu, Tidal and Amazon Prime, depending on their plans.
For carriers, postpaid customers are usually those that are not living around the line of poverty. Those users usually go for prepaid. Which means that they are less likely to default on their bill. This is why carriers prefer postpaid customers over prepaid. In addition to the fact that the profit margin is higher in postpaid.
In the US, postpaid carriers include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
What are prepaid Android carriers?
As mentioned already, prepaid carriers normally make you pay for your usage ahead of time. So you might pay on April 1 for the entire month of April, and so on. But the good thing about that is, that when you decide to leave your prepaid carrier, you won't have a big bill that is prorated.
Prepaid is normally used by those that don't make a lot of money. Prepaid plans are typically close to $30 per month, on average. Whereas postpaid is over $70 per month on average, for a single line.
With prepaid carriers, you can still get an Android phone, but what you won't get is an installment plan. So if you choose to get a Galaxy S20 from a carrier like Metro By T-Mobile, you're going to have to pay the full amount up front. Prepaid carriers do often times offer more mid-range and budget smartphones, because of the clientele that they attract. If you aren't willing to pay $70 per month for your phone service, then you likely aren't willing to pay $1000 for a new phone.
Prepaid customers don't typically earn wireless carriers a lot of money, but seeing as most are auto-pay, they do get their money when it is due. Instead of having to spend money on customer service reps chasing down customers to pay their bills. So there's good and bad, there for wireless carriers.
In the US, prepaid carriers include Boost Mobile, Metro By T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Verizon Prepaid, and AT&T Prepaid.
What's the difference between postpaid and prepaid?
The biggest difference between postpaid and prepaid is, when you pay for your usage. As mentioned, postpaid charges you at the end of the month and prepaid is at the beginning of the month. But there are a few other differences between the two.
Postpaid will get the best service. This is because you are paying more and therefore are a more valuable customer to the carrier. It also gets priority on its network. With faster speeds, and more data usage before getting slowed down. Prepaid is next, followed by MVNO carriers, in terms of data speed priority.
Often times you will get a better value out of postpaid plans. But if you need something cheap, that just works, then a prepaid plan is going to be better. With postpaid, carriers often throw in things like free Netflix, free Disney+ for a year, or even free Amazon Prime. As well as discounts on auto-pay. Which carriers prefer, because they know they'll get paid, and will sometimes discount up to $20 per month if you use auto-pay.
Another key difference is the fact that prepaid normally comes with taxes included in the price. Postpaid, normally doesn't. With the exception of T-Mobile's Magenta plan, where taxes and fees are included in the $70/month price. This means that with prepaid, you won't get bill shock. Because your bill will be exactly what it was advertised to be.
The bottom line is that if you are a heavy user (you use your phone a lot on the road or where there isn't much WiFi accessible), then postpaid is the route to go. If you work from home, or use WiFi a ton, then prepaid might be the better option, as it is cheaper and gives you lower limits for talk, text and data.
What is an MVNO?
Another term you might hear about a wireless carrier is "MVNO". Well, this is a carrier that is not owned by a major carrier like AT&T or Verizon, essentially. MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator.
In the simplest explanation, an MVNO is an operator that does not own the network that it is operating on. You see, Boost Mobile does own the network it's operating on, since it works on Sprint and is owned by Sprint. But Simple Mobile does not own AT&T's network, that it operates on. Making it an MVNO.
Typically, an MVNO would enter into a business agreement with a mobile network operator (like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon) and obtains bulk access to network services at wholesale rates. You can think of it as Simple Mobile going to Costco and buying access to AT&T's network at a lower price. Then the MVNO will sell it independently to customers.
Normally, MVNO's do offer their own customer service, billing support systems, marketing and sales personnel. But they can also get those services from a Mobile Virtual Network Enabler or MVNE.
It can really get pretty confusing, but for most people, it's essentially the same as a prepaid carrier. With MVNO's you do prepay for your service, however, it is normally cheaper than prepaid carriers. For instance, Google Fi, you can get for as low as $20 per month. That's cheaper than Boost Mobile, and Cricket Wireless.
Here are some examples of MVNO carriers: Google Fi, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk, Consumer Cellular, FreedomPop, Republic Wireless, just to name a few. There are hundreds of MVNO's currently in service in the US. Other countries do use MVNOs, but it's mostly limited to the US, UK and Japan.
Can I switch wireless carriers?
Yes. Of course you can switch.
But before you do, there are a few things to think about.
Not all wireless carriers are interoperable. What this means is that your phone may not work on the new carrier that you are looking to switch to. For instance, a Verizon-branded phone that you bought from your Verizon store, may not work on T-Mobile. So you may need to buy a new phone when you switch. However, most phones these days do support all four carriers, but your carrier might have the SIM locked. Meaning that unless you have paid off your phone, you can't get it unlocked, and use it on another network.
Another thing to look at is coverage. Not all carriers have the same coverage. Depending on where you live, AT&T might have better coverage, or Sprint might be better. So it's a good idea to do your homework in that regard.
The third thing is to check your bill. Now that wireless contracts are mostly a thing of the past, many of us do financing plans with our carriers for our phones. Especially with phones costing $999 or more these days. So when you cancel your service with your carrier, you are going to owe the remaining amount, and it needs to be paid a lot sooner. On top of that, if you got any bill credits, you will be forfeiting those. So if you took advantage of a BOGO deal with your carrier, those bill credits will be gone, and you'll owe the remaining amount on both phones.
So yes, you can switch. But it's not a good idea to just wake up one morning and decide to switch from T-Mobile to Verizon. You are going to need to do some homework before you do so. But if you bought your phone outright – for example, you bought an unlocked Pixel 4 from Google – you'll likely be fine and can switch.
Which one has the best plans and phone selection?
Now it's time for the big question. Who has the best phones and the best plans? Well it really depends on what your needs are. But it's going to be postpaid for the majority of people.
For those that are heavy users, and want to take advantage of some of the freebies that postpaid carriers toss in, than postpaid is definitely the route to go. And if you live in a popular area like Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles, where there's a lot of people on the same network, postpaid is also going to be the best choice. as you'll be more likely to get faster and usable speeds.
But, if you are living paycheck to paycheck, then prepaid is a better deal. Though, prepaid isn't just for those that don't make a lot of money. If you're like me, and work from home, then prepaid can be a good way to save some money. Since people that work from home are normally on their WiFi network all the time, and are using less mobile data. If you're using only 2GB of mobile data a month, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be paying $70 per month for an unlimited plan.
MVNOs are also good for those that are looking to save some cash. If you just want service, and don't want to have to think about your data usage or having to buy your phone from a specific carrier. Then yes, MVNOs are a great option. Particularly Google Fi, since it uses many networks together, and gets you the best signal in your area.
Now, when it comes to phone selection, postpaid carriers have the best phone selection hands down. However, most smartphone makers do sell their phones unlocked now and they do support all four wireless networks in the US (with a few exceptions, like OnePlus). Allowing you to buy a Galaxy S20+ from Samsung.com and take it to Boost Mobile, T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless, or even Straight Talk.
It comes down to what your needs are. Prepaid, Postpaid and MVNOs can be good for everyone.