How to test carrier coverage on iPhone before switching

Making the jump to a new carrier can often sound appealing, whether it’s the incentives, the hopes of better coverage, pricing, or all of the above. However, the reality is that switching can be a commitment (even without contracts) and it’s no fun to make the move only to realize you’ve made a mistake. Let’s look at some tips and tricks to test carrier coverage with iPhone before committing to switching.

The competition between US carriers to get customers to switch continues to heat up. Verizon offers up to $650 for trade-ins, T-Mobile offers up to $1,000 on iPhone trade-ins, and AT&T is doing up to $700 at the time of writing. Of course, there are many offers and options from MVNOs and other regional carriers too.

When it comes to coverage, carrier maps usually look great online but real-world performance can and does vary. While looking at coverage maps isn’t a bad place to start, we’ll cover a few different approaches to getting a real feel for what to expect.

How to test carrier coverage with iPhone before switching

Get real feedback

  • You can compare multiple carriers’ coverage maps at once with Signalchecker
  • If you haven’t already, it’s helpful to talk to family, friends, co-workers, etc. who already use the carrier you’re thinking about switching to and get some real feedback about what to expect
  • Another way to see true coverage results from local users in your area is with the free Opensignal app

iPhone eSIM trial

T-Mobile has just launched a really clever option for iPhone users to try out its network via the built-in smartphone’s eSIM.

  • Free 30-day trial including 5G coverage
  • Get set up in minutes with the T-Mobile Test Drive app (iPhone XS or later required)
  • Keep your existing carrier coverage and number and test out T-Mobile simultaneously with no risk, cost, or commitment

Learn more about how it works in our full coverage here.

Hotspot trial

For AT&T and Verizon (or T-Mobile if you don’t have an iPhone XS or later) grabbing a hotspot can be a great way to try out a new network.

  • T-Mobile offers a free 30-day trial with a hotspot
  • Verizon doesn’t offer a free trial but you can return and cancel a hotspot plan within 14 days
  • Same for AT&T, no free trial program, but you can test for two weeks and cancel
    • You might not be able to get a refund for activation or other fees with Verizon and AT&T

Test carrier coverage with a new line

Another option to test a new carrier without having to commit to porting your number is to get set up with a new number with either prepaid or postpaid service.

  • Usually, postpaid accounts will have the best service from a carrier but prepaid is often faster and easier to get set up
  • Look for “bring your own device” options from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or another carrier you’re considering
    • Like the hotspots, you can cancel plans with most carriers within 14 days (you likely won’t get back activation fees though, double-check details before purchasing)
    • If you end up liking the new service, you can port in your phone number along with any other lines afterward
  • If you have an unlocked iPhone, you may be able to even test the new carrier with the eSIM (skip the need for a physical SIM card)

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