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Consumer Cellular Now Offers Service on Both AT&T and T-Mobile

Add Consumer Cellular to the list of multi-carrier MVNOs. I first got wind of this last week when a Howard Forums member posted that they had received a T-Mobile based SIM from Consumer Cellular. I was skeptical, as Consumer Cellular has always been an AT&T MVNO that can roam on T-Mobile, but has never offered T-Mobile SIMs. I asked Consumer Cellular if they were now shipping T-Mobile SIMs and got this official reply:

"Our service utilizes two of the largest networks in the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless. The majority of our customers are utilizing the AT&T network, however we do have some customers who have been set up on the T-Mobile network, if the coverage in their local area is stronger with T-Mobile.

Having multiple carriers to choose from allows us to provide the best coverage possible based on a customer’s needs. In fact, if a customer wants to be a on a specific network we are more than happy to fulfil their request."

The difference between roaming on T-Mobile with an AT&T SIM and having a T-Mobile SIM is that the T-Mobile SIM will favor T-Mobile's network and use it if it's available and will only roam on other networks if there's no T-Mobile signal and T-Mobile has a roaming agreement with the other network for that particular area.

Looking at T-Mobile and AT&T's native coverage maps (click the maps above to view a larger version) you can see that although AT&T covers a much larger area, there are a few places where T-Mobile has service and AT&T doesn't. The largest area where T-Mobile wins is in north-east Oregon along I-84 between Boise ID and Portland OR. There are smaller pockets where T-Mobile has coverage and AT&T doesn't in central Nevada, along the extreme northern California coast and in Arizona east of Phoenix.

If you're wondering if your Consumer Cellular SIM is AT&T or T-Mobile based, the SIM ID (ICCID) is the surest way to tell. If the SIM ID starts with 890126 it's for T-Mobile, AT&T SIM IDs start with 890141.

To view your SIM ID on iOS go to Settings > General > About and look for ICCID number. Older Android phones displayed the SIM ID in Settings > About Phone > Status but most newer ones don't. You can use an app like SIM Info (free) which displays the SIM ID as "SIM Serial Number". The SIM ID should also be printed on the SIM itself or on the credit card sized piece of plastic the SIM came attached to.

More and more MVNOs seem to be going multi-carrier. Verizon MVNO BYO Wireless recently added T-Mobile  to its lineup as did Sprint MVNO Ting. Formerly AT&T only MVNO Red Pocket now offers service on all four national networks.  Advantages of nulti-network for MVNOs include a stronger negotiating position with their network partners, being able to server a larger market and to accept more different BYOP devices. For MVNOs like Consumer Cellular that that offer no-extra cost roaming it also means they can reduce roaming costs by providing service on a carrier that the customer is less likely to need roaming with.

21 comments:

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  1. Dennis -- Thank you for clarifying Consumer Cellular's SIM card options!

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    1. Agreed!! Thank you. I have an unlocked iPhone (which I brought over from T-Mobile.) Noticed my coverage was similar to T-Mobile because CC insisted that was the better option. After reading this and verifying, I'm having them send me an AT&T SIM.

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  2. It's not clear to me if the new coverage is the same (or close to the same) if you are using a Consumer Cellular T-Mobile SIM.

    The article says that "the T-Mobile SIM will favor T-Mobile's network and use it if it's available and will only roam on other networks if there's no T-Mobile signal and T-Mobile has a roaming agreement with the other network for that particular area". Do you know (or can CC tell you) if the T-Mobile SIM will roam onto AT&T's network to give effectively the same coverage?

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    1. With the possible exception of TracFone, I don't believe that MVNOs negotiate their own roaming agreements, they rely on whatever roaming their mobile network partner has.

      AT&T based Consumer Cellular has traditionally been said to have the same roaming coverage as postpaid AT&T. I expect T-Mobile based Consumer Cellular to have the same coverage with as T-Mobile postpaid.

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  3. Well explained. and it shows the value of the T-Mobile network more than any statements about secret plans, or shill's claims about customer "churn" ever will.

    Now, a tough question, Dennis. Do you have an impression of which network has more coverage postpaid Verizon (apparently Sprint added), or AT&T + T-Mobile?

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    1. Verizon postpaid, some rural areas have only have a local CDMA operator.

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    2. Thanks. Will stick with Selectel for the time being then (for my other, low-data use, account), since it has the best network. But my patience grows thin ovr their stone-age prices and deals, and the company's decision to hold off adding LTE for quite a while.

      Good to know there is good alternative in Consumer Cellular.... with their recent price changes they are worthy of consideration.

      As

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  4. I suppose that this is just wishful thinking on my part, but if T-Mobile based Consumer Cellular does have the same coverage as T-Mobile postpaid, does this mean that T-Mobile Consumer Cellular will allow a phone to travel abroad or at least to parts of Canada and Mexico?

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    1. I always thought the domestic MVNO deals were domestic-only unless indicated otherwise...

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  5. If you have a T-Mobile sim, does one get free music streaming, data stash, or free data abroad just like with their postpaid simple choice plan?

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    1. Nope. No text and data roaming outside USA, and none of the other perks from $50 and up T-Mobile Simple Choice plans are included.

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    2. I hope that T-Mobile music streaming thing gets abolished under Net Neutrality, too.

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    3. Won't happen. All current OTT services are grandfathered. New services do not require advance review or approval by the FCC.

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  6. How does this work for byod with a phone that is not unlocked?

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    1. It works fine with a locked AT&T phone. You should be able to use a locked T-Mobile phone with their Tmo SIM. You still get roaming.

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    2. CC uses the same carrier codes as T-Mobile, so it work work fine.

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  7. If only Consumer Cellular had competitive pricing.

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    1. Dennis -- Just a reminder that you need to place a "t" now beside Consumer Cellular (a, t) under your "News By Carrier" list.

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  8. have consumer cellular sim in android device with poor reception in western ky. They're very nice trouble shooters unable to determine why or fix the problem. Make any sense to switch to T Mobile Sim??

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  9. have consumer cellular service, with t-moble sim's card, sending pics and texts, have never worked,i've learned to live without,only get a receipt of 129 from the towers, cc tech support unable to correct problem, what could bethe problem, using samsung rugby 3,flip phone?

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    1. You are using an AT&T feature phone on a T-Mobile based service. Unlike most smartphones, changng the data and MMS settings of carrier branded feature phones is difficult at best and often impossible.

      The simplest solution is to switch to a Consumer Cellular AT&T SIM.

      If you want to try configuring the Rugby 3 data and MMS start your research here: AT&T rugby 3 on t-mobile with data and MMS - Google Search

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