What is a Carrier Network? (Plus Tips for Choosing One)

Updated September 30, 2022

Sending phone and internet data over long distances can require a complicated system of multiple devices and structures. To simplify the process, service providers create carrier networks so you can access data in various locations without needing to contact the owners of individual cell towers. Understanding more about carrier networks can help you understand their importance and may allow you to make informed decisions when choosing a service provider. In this article, we explore what a carrier network does, the benefits of using a carrier network and some factors to consider when choosing which service provider's network to use.

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What is a carrier network?

A carrier network is a series of devices and infrastructure that transmits data from one location to another. This infrastructure enables communication and data transmission to people and devices spread over large geographical areas. Various carriers may own and maintain equipment in this infrastructure or buy services from other providers to complete their network. The operation of these networks is supervised by regulatory government agencies.

Related: How To Become a Signal Engineer in 5 Steps (With Skills)

What does a carrier network do?

A carrier network helps transport a phone or internet signal from a physical source to your desktop or mobile device. It does this by sending signals through pieces of infrastructure, such as cell towers, internet lines and satellites. A SIM card inside your device often processes the signal and uses it to access data, make phone calls or create a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Related: How To Become a Cell Tower Technician

Benefits of a carrier network

These are a few benefits of carrier networks:

Increased coverage

Using a carrier network, you can send data across large distances. This allows you to communicate with people all over the world. Larger carrier networks have more infrastructure to carry signals farther and allow you to send information to people at farther distances.

Integrated infrastructure

Sending any type of data usually requires three main components: a SIM card or linked phone that picks up the data signal, a piece of infrastructure that transmits the signal, such as a satellite or cell tower and a source of the signal, usually called a base station controller. Using a carrier network allows you to integrate all stages of data transmission seamlessly instead of individually handling each step of the process.

Simplified billing

Using a service provider of a carrier network allows you to use multiple systems without talking to every vendor or regional carrier system. It also means that instead of paying each individual member of a network, you only need to pay the service provider, as they handle the negotiations and payments of the carrier network members on your behalf. This can help you keep track of your finances and may save you money on internet or cellular data.

Service provider vs. carrier network

While people often use the terms service provider and carrier network interchangeably, there are a few key differences. A carrier network is the technology that companies use to help you connect to the internet or cellular data. Meanwhile, a service provider is the company that grants you access to the carrier network. Although many service providers own a carrier network, others function independently.

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Factors to consider when choosing a service provider

Here are some things you may consider when choosing a service provider for a carrier network:


One of the main elements you may consider when choosing a service provider is the cost. Each provider usually offers a range of pricing that can vary depending on how often you use your phone, what features you use and how much data you need. If you're on a budget, you may want to consider service providers that offer cheaper plans.

Payment plans

The payment structure that your provider uses to charge you for your phone or internet plan may affect which service provider you choose to join. Some service providers offer a set amount of data or an unlimited plan for a fixed monthly fee. Others have more flexible plans that only charge you for the features you use. Think about the type of payment plan that works for you and research providers that offer a plan in your price range.

Additional fees

Some service providers include fees in addition to their payment plans. These fees may involve international calling options, internet hotspots, ringtone subscriptions and insurance plans. Before signing up for a service provider of a carrier network, try to determine if there are any additional fees you may need to pay.


While some service providers own the carrier networks they use, other providers use networks owned by other companies. If your provider owns its carrier network, they may give their own clients precedence, which can result in faster or more reliable network speeds. You can research the service provider you're interested in choosing to see if they own the carrier network they use.


Different service provider plans may contain different features. For example, some plans for phones can include Wi-Fi hotspot capability, unlimited text messages and unlimited data for streaming or uploading programs. If you don't intend to use these features, you may find a service provider with a more basic plan at a lower price.

Related: Pros and Cons of Using a Personal Phone for Work


Coverage is the total area that a carrier network's signal reaches. Try to find a network that has strong coverage in your local area. If you travel often or communicate with people who live in different areas, consider finding a network with a wider range of coverage. If you live in a remote area, ensure that your service provider's network functions well within your general location.

Signal quality

There can be other determining factors than coverage that affect the strength of a carrier network's signal. Signal speed, reliability and network latency are all factors that may change the quality of your calls or data. When researching networks, consider finding advanced technical information to determine the overall quality of its signal.

Related: What Is Network Latency? (Plus Tips for Reducing it)


A company's reputation may help you decide which service provider is right for you. If a particular organization has a good reputation, it may provide higher quality or more reliable service. Consider asking friends and family in your area about their experience with particular providers to help you discover a company's reputation.

Customer service

Occasionally, challenges or unexpected complications can occur with your carrier services. Quality customer service from your service provider can quickly address unforeseen circumstances and may calm you down in a challenging situation. Try to ask friends and family about their experiences with a service provider's customer service to help you determine which organizations have the best customer service teams.

Contract length

Many carrier networks require you to sign a contract before you can use their services. This contract prevents you from switching networks before the contract expires without paying a fee. If you think you may want to switch carrier networks, consider finding one that has a short contract length or an option to pay without a contract.

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