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 has some Android phones 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 seems to prefer selling T-Mobile or Sprint homed phones, followed by AT&T with Verizon as a last resort. I suspect this is because they get the best deal from T-Mobile and the worst from Verizon.
Straight Talk iPhones and BlackBerrys use the Verizon network.
NET10 and Straight Talk Android phones use Sprint, AT&T or Verizon depending on model:
- AT&T: Huawei Inspira, LG L35G Optimus Logic, LG Optimus Extreme, LG Optimus Ultimate, Samsung Galaxy Discover, Samsung Galaxy S II, ZTE Merit
- Verizon: Huawei Ascend Plus, Huawei Ascend Y, M865C, Huawei Glory, LG Optimus Dynamic L38C, LG Optimus Showtime, LG Optimus Zip L75C, Samsung Galaxy Centura, Samsung Galaxy Proclaim S720C, Samsung Galaxy S Showcase S950C, UNIMAX MAXBravo
- Sprint: Samsung Galaxy Precedent, Samsung Galaxy S III, LG Optimus Black, LG Optimus Q, LG Optimus Quest, LG Optimus Net, Huawei Ascend II, Motorola Defy XT
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 get a phone that works on that network.
Non Android phones with model numbers ending in "C" like the LG 501C and LG 220C 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-Android phones with model numbers ending in G are GSM phones that are homed on either AT&T or T-Mobile. The Motorola V176, V170 and C139 and LG225 are also GSM phones. 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.
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 market and you know AT&T works better for you then use a GSM4 zipcode like 65046 or 76825 when prompted to enter your zip on the TracFone site. Also, GSM TracFones sold by walmart.com always have AT&T SIMs
To order Verizon CDMA phones use the 73949 or 82210 zipcodes.
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.