Phone Plans

Getting a phone plan in America is relatively more confusing than that in Singapore. There are four main cell service providers in the United States: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. These carriers own the wireless network infrastructure that they operate on.

Based on feedback from our students, it is advisable to use the networks of AT&T and Verizon since they have relatively better coverage here in Ithaca. Having said this, we have also heard that there might have been some infrastructure improvements on T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s network here in Ithaca, so these may also be viable options today.

Phone Compatibility

AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM networks while Verizon and Sprint operate on CDMA networks. This is important to note as most phones are configured to only run on GSM networks, since most of the world only uses GSM networks. 


Most of the common smartphones, such as iPhones, and Samsung Galaxy S series should work on any carrier though. However, it is still prudent to access the websites of these carrier to check your phone compatibility with their networks.

Moblie Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)

In addition to the four main cell service providers in America, there exists a plethora of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). MVNOs do not own the wireless network infrastructure over which they provide services to its customers.


An MVNO enters into a business agreement with a mobile network operator to obtain bulk access to network services at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently. Some common ones that students here use include, h2o wireless, cricket wireless, mint mobile, US mobile, boost mobile, etc.

How to Sign Up for a Plan?

Many carriers allow you to easily sign up online. You can browse their websites for information on existing price plans and promotions.


However, during orientation, some network carriers come down to campus (Cornell Store) to enable students to sign up on the spot. Bear Necessities in Collegetown also provides the SIM card for h2o wireless. Otherwise, Best Buy at Ithaca Mall is the next closest store to purchase a SIM card from other mobile network carriers.


  • If you have a group of friends you trust, getting a family plan may be cheaper!
  • Depending on your phone usage, pay-as-you-go plans may be cheaper than fixed plans.