TracFone and its sister brands NET10 and Straight Talk, do not have their own networks. They're Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) that buy wholesale minutes, texts and data from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and over a dozen smaller regional networks. Straight Talk and Net10 also have smartphones that run on the Sprint, Verizon and AT&T networks. Each phone has a home network that's either AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon. TracFone, Straight Talk and NET10 phones will favor their home network and refuse to roam in an area where the home network claims to have coverage. So if you have a phone whose home network is T-Mobile and you are in an area where T-Mobile has spotty coverage, the phone will refuse to roam on AT&T even if AT&T has a better signal. The Sprint based phones don't roam at all.
Which network a given TracFone, NET10 or Straight Talk phone is homed on depends on the market it's sold in. TracFone companies seem to prefer selling T-Mobile or Sprint homed phones, followed by Verizon with AT&T as a last resort. I suspect this is because they get the best deals from T-Mobile Sprint and the worst from AT&T.
What's most cost effective for TracFone is not always what's best for you as the end user. Here's how to tell which network a given TracFone is homed on and how to get a phone that will give you the best coverage in the areas where you live, work and play.
Start by determining which of the three networks will give you the best coverage. If you have a TracFone, NET10 or Straight Talk phone that works well see below for how to find out what network it uses. Ask friends with prepaid phones what network they are using and how well it works. Look at the Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile prepaid coverage maps to see each carrier's native coverage area (ignore areas labeled as "roaming" or "partner").
Once you know what home network you want, here's how to determine which phones work on that network.
The NET10 and Straight Talk iPhone 4, 4s and 5 and BlackBerry Curve use the Verizon network.
The NET10 and Straight Talk iPhone 5c and 5s use the AT&T network.
With most America Movil Android phones you can tell which operator they use by model name or number. Here's a list of the America Movil Android phones by network operator:
- AT&T: Alcatel OneTouch Sonic LTE, LG L31 Access LTE, LG L35G Optimus Logic, LG Optimus Extreme, LG Optimus Ultimate, Samsung S730G Galaxy Discover, Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Galaxy S4 SAS975G, Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, ZTE Illustra, ZTE Merit, ZTE Solar, ZTE Unico LTE, ZTE Whirl 2
- Verizon: Alcatel OneTouch ICON Pop, Huawei Ascend Plus, Huawei Ascend Y, M865C, Huawei Glory, LG Optimus Dynamic L38C, LG Optimus Dynamic 2, LG Optimus Fuel, LG Optimus Showtime, LG Optimus Zip L75C, LG Ultimate 2, Samsung Galaxy Ace Style S765C, Samsung Galaxy Centura, Samsung Galaxy Proclaim S720C, Samsung Galaxy S Showcase S950C, Samsung Galaxy S III S968C, UNIMAX MAXBravo, ZTE Majesty, ZTE Quartz, ZTE Savvy, ZTE Valet
- Sprint: Samsung S735C Galaxy Discover, Samsung Galaxy Precedent, Samsung Galaxy S III S960L, Samsung Galaxy S4 SAS975L, LG Optimus Black, LG Optimus Q, LG Optimus Quest, LG Optimus Net, Huawei Ascend II, Motorola Defy XT
- T-Mobile: Motorola Moto G, ZTE Midnight
There are also two Samsung Galaxy S III models. The S960L (sometimes labeled S960C) is on Sprint and the S968C (also called SAS968C pr STSAS968CWTPWP) is on Verizon.
There are two Samsung Galaxy S 4 models. The SAS975L is on Sprint and the SAS975G is on AT&T.
Non-smartphones with model numbers ending in "C" like the LG 501C and LG 220C all use CDMA technology and are homed on Verizon. The LG 3280 is also a CDMA/Verizon phone. These phone's home network is Verizon but they will roam on other CDMA networks like US Cellular in areas where Verizon doesn't have coverage. These phones do not have SIM cards and are incompatible with GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.
Non-smartphones with model numbers ending in G along with the Huawei Inspira, Samsung Galaxy S4 and ZTE Whirl Android phones and the Huawei W1 Windows Phone are GSM phones that are homed on either AT&T or T-Mobile. Continue reading to learn how to tell which network these phones will use
The Motorola V176, V170 and C139 and LG225 are also GSM phones that can be on either T-Mobile or AT&T.
To tell if a GSM phone is homed on T-Mobile or AT&T:
If you are buying the phone in a store look for the product number on the box under the barcode. If it ends in P4, R4 or P4P, like TFLG800GTMP4P it's AT&T. If it ends in P5, R5 or P5P like TFLG800GTMP5 it's T-Mobile.
Most Tracfone, NET10 and Straight Talk phones also have a network code on the box. It's usually in the lower left corner on the front of the box. These codes are: CDMA-S = Sprint, CDMA-V = Verizon, GSM-A = AT&T, GSM-T = T-Mobile.
If you already have the phone, find the SIM ID in the Prepaid menu. The first six numbers of the ID determine the carrier: 890126 = T-Mobile, 890141 = AT&T
Or look at the SIM itself. AT&T Tracfone SIMs have a code on them ending in C4, like TF64SIMC4. If the SIM has a code ending in T5, like TFSIMT5, it's for T-Mobile.
If you are ordering a phone online from one of the TracFone companies, after you enter you zip code look at the page URL for a string of characters beginning with &market=. The 4-6 characters after the "=" are the TracFone Market codes. Decode them as follows:
GSM4 = AT&T
GSM4SPR = AT&T or Sprint (Net10/Straight Talk Only)
GSM5 = T-Mobile
GSM5AT = T-Mobile or AT&T
GSM5SPR = T-Mobile or Sprint (Net10/Straight Talk Only)
CO = Verizon
COGSM4 = Verizon or AT&T
COGSM5 = Verizon or T-Mobile
COSPR = Verizon or Sprint (Net10/Straight Talk Only)
For example, the URL; http://www.tracfone-orders.com/bpdirect/tracfone/Start.do?action=view&market=GSM5AT&aid=&vid=&vc=&sahcid=&com=&zip=94132&locale=en&siteType=TR&gotoPhonelist=true&AID=
Contains "&market=GSM5AT" so its a market in which both T-Mobile and AT&T will work. TracFone almost always sells T-Mobile phones in GSM5AT or COGSM5 markets.
If your zipcode gives you a T-Mobile or Sprint market and you know AT&T or Verizon works better for you then:
- For NET10 go to www.net10.com/store_manager.jsp?task=buyphone
- For Straight Talk go to www.straighttalk.com/wps/portal/home/shop/phones
- For TracFone go to www.tracfone.com/e_store.jsp
- When prompted to enter your zipcode use 65046 (Jamestown MO) or 76825 (Brady TX) for AT&T or 73949 (Texhoma OK) for Verizon
- After entering one of the zipcodes and clicking OK and then Yes to the "phone will be used in,,," prompt verify that the URL of the page listing the available phones contains "&market=GSM4" for AT&T or "&market=CO" for Verizon. If it doesn't don't order the phone, as you probably won't get what you want. Please leave a comment if one of the zipcodes stops working so I can update the post.
- Be sure to change the zip code back to yours in the address field on the shopping cart page. Regardless of what market a phone was sold for you will get a number local to wherever you activate the phone.
Before using a different zipcode to get the phone or network you want be sure to check the Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile coverage map to verify that the phone's home operator has coverage where you will be activating the phone. Phones will not activate in an area where their home operator doesn't have coverage.
Updated Oct 20, 2014: Added Alcatel OneTouch ICON Pop