Will two cell companies on the Sprint network have comparable coverage?
August 3, 2014 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Currently I use Virgin Mobile. I'd like to change cell carriers, partially due to the poor reception I get with Virgin (although this may be due to my sucky phone - it's a Kyocera Rise). I was thinking about going with Ting. However, I see that they use the Sprint network, just like Virgin does. Does that mean that I'll get the same quality of reception with Ting? Or do the two companies have different reception somehow?

I live in Milwaukee, WI if it matters.

posted by christinetheslp to Technology (7 answers total)
I live in Milwaukee and I use Ting. I have not had any problems with reception, on any side of town. I think it might be your phone; I have a different one.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep. i've had qwest(when it existed), boost, and virgin. all of which use the sprint network.

They all worked like shit no matter what phone i had. sprint is hilariously bad in some places, and ok in others. It sounds like you live in one of the suck zones, so don't expect any better.

Also, the kyocera rise isn't a particularly horrible phone. It's fairly recent, and should probably have about the same reception as any other recent low-midrange smartphone(which is generally OK). From a cursory googling, it's new enough to have android 4.something and a snapdragon CPU. It's not a $9 beater flip phone or anything. It's probably fairly safe to assume it's representative of what service you'll get on sprint in general.
posted by emptythought at 8:19 PM on August 3, 2014

Ehh, I had a Kyocera Rise which was totally awful. Very sluggish, didn't switch quickly between apps, generally bad call reception. My call reception (and every other feature of the phone) jumped drastically when I upgraded to a Galaxy S3. I'm still on the same Virgin Mobile plan ... just cost about $220 for the phone, but at $35 a month for Virgin Mobile's service, it sure beats the major carriers.
posted by Happydaz at 8:32 PM on August 3, 2014

My experience with Sprint and Sprint subsidiaries is that generally speaking, reception is about the same from one to another--this experience is based on having been in a Sprint/Boost/Virgin household for a while, and a Boost/Sprint one much longer.

My other experience with Sprint & co is that the phones make a staggering amount of difference--for a while, my mother, grandfather, sister, and I were all on Sprint or a Sprint subsidiary, and we could sit at the same table and have totally different experiences--like, one phone would have no signal at all, and one phone would have full bars. Consistently best and worst were both on Sprint proper, so that's probably not the dealbreakers.

If you're able to try a couple different phones (either by having friends come over, or by buying/reselling phones on eBay or whatever) I suspect that you'll find that a different phone is a more effective fix than a different network.
posted by MeghanC at 10:39 PM on August 3, 2014

One thing to check is the map of your area's coverage, especially through a third party such as opensignal or sensorly. Sprint's network is notoriously weaker, but they're the carrier who resells bandwidth to others, so (almost?) all of the carriers who don't own their own network have to use them. (Virgin Mobile USA, as you may know, is actually part of Sprint now.) Sprint's CDMA/3G network in Milwaukee actually looks fairly decent, so it could... be your phone.

I live in a less urban area and while I have decent call reception and such, data is another matter -- lots of places I can't get a 3G connection at all. So I'm careful to make sure I get logged in to whatever wi-fi I can find in an area and have it auto-reconnect me. Since I'm usually going to many of the same places this works for me, and the Ting prices really can't be beat.

But if the reception issues are really important to you, it's possible that it isn't for you. Most of the map services will show you the carrier with the best reception and data rates in your area, so use that as a guide.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 AM on August 4, 2014

Simple answer: yes. Virtual networks don't do anything special - they are just a separate brand, running on the exact same network as you'd be on if you were using the 'parent' network directly, in this case Sprint. You can generally use this to save money - I'm on the network that works best in my region (EE in the UK), but pay about half what I would on that network, just by using a virtual network that runs on it. Everything about my phone is the same as it would be if I was on EE, other than the network's display name on the screen.

Network coverage is a very fine-grained local thing, so people saying it works for them so it should work for you are being a bit disingenuous. You can get a great signal at one end of a short street, and terrible signal at the other end. You just have to test it in places you care about, rather than relying on coverage predictions or anecdata.
posted by winterhill at 2:11 AM on August 4, 2014

Virtual networks don't do anything special - they are just a separate brand, running on the exact same network as you'd be on if you were using the 'parent' network directly, in this case Sprint.

I'm pretty sure that Virgin doesn't have any roaming agreements for access beyond Sprint's network, while Ting can roam for voice coverage on Verizon's network. If you're in an area of marginal coverage, that may make a difference.

But I'd agree that coverage is incredibly fine-grained. Good excuse for a party at yours, where all the guests have a different phone and carrier.
posted by holgate at 3:00 AM on August 4, 2014

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