Last updated: September 2019
I couldn’t find anywhere where Verizon clearly explained the difference between its prepaid coverage and postpaid coverage. I was especially curious about differences in domestic roaming access for prepaid subscribers compared to postpaid subscribers. Since I couldn’t find clear answers, I did a bit of digging around Verizon’s coverage maps. I share what I learned on this page. I’m not totally confident about my assessment, and network coverage changes all the time. If you have any doubts, you may want to reach out to Verizon directly.
As of April 2019, the interactive coverage map on Verizon’s website allows users to select one of four options for viewing coverage information:
- 4G LTE Coverage
- 4G LTE without 3G CDMA
- 3G/1X Coverage
- Prepay Voice & Data
Here’s what that map looks like with the default “4G LTE Coverage” option selected:
With the “Prepay Voice & Data” option selected, the map looks quite similar:
It looks like both maps show extended (roaming) 4G LTE coverage in the same (or nearly the same) places. My impression is that subscribers to both Verizon’s prepaid and postpaid service can roam in the extend 4G areas at no extra charge. The only obvious differences in the national maps are areas with 3G coverage. Even those differences are hard to see since the regions are so small. I’ve added arrows to the first map to indicate a few of the places where postpaid subscribers have network access that prepaid subscribers may not. Green arrows indicate areas covered by extended 3G networks and yellow arrows indicate areas covered by Verizon’s 3G networks.
The differences in coverage are probably unimportant for most consumers given (a) how small the regions are and (b) Verizon’s plan to largely retire its 3G network by the end of 2020. In fact, I’m not confident that prepaid subscribers are totally unable to access Verizon’s network in areas I marked with arrows (if network access in those areas is important to you, see the following footnote).
Coverage with Verizon-based MVNOs
I’ve found it difficult to figure out how the coverage offered by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that run over Verizon’s network compares to the coverage that that Verizon’s own prepaid and postpaid subscribers receive. I’m suspicious that MVNOs running over Verizon typically have a smaller coverage profile than Verizon itself.
Through its LTE in Rural America (LTEiRA) program, Verizon partners with 20 or so regional network operators. Verizon’s direct customers can access these regional operators’ networks. It’s unclear whether subscribers on Verizon-based MVNOs can access these networks. The best discussion I’ve seen on this topic comes from a post on HowardForums started in August 2019. I’m not certain, but the post leads to to believe most people using Verizon-based MVNOs cannot access most LTEiRA networks at this time.
- Verizon’s Domestic Roaming FAQ states the following (as of 4/29/2019):
“Will I be charged differently when using my device while roaming domestically?
No, with the exception of a few old plans.
Please refer to the My Plan page in My Verizon for the roaming details of your specific plan. If no information about roaming is listed, then there are no additional charges for roaming domestically.”
It’s unclear if this excerpt necessarily applies to prepaid subscribers. Earlier in the FAQ, the following statement is made:
“For information about prepaid service and domestic roaming, refer to our Prepaid Service FAQs.”
Unfortunately, I did not find Prepaid Service FAQs helpful for clearing up questions about domestic roaming. However, users on a Reddit thread suggest that there are no charges associated with most domestic, 4G roaming on Verizon’s prepaid plans.
- These arrows are not comprehensive. Some areas without arrows may not be covered by prepaid service.
- Verizon’s FAQ for prepaid subscribers states the following (as of 4/29/2019):
“Prepaid service is available in the Prepaid Rate and Coverage Area. To see where prepaid service is available:
Go to our Interactive coverage map.
Tap or click the Menu icon in the top left corner of the map.
The prepaid coverage map will display.
Calls made or received outside of this calling area will be charged at a roaming rate. See the Prepaid International page for rate details.”
The excerpt seems to indicate that it may be possible for prepaid users to roam in additional, domestic areas. However, the suggestion to view the Prepaid International page for more information may indicate that Verizon only meant to imply prepaid customers could roam outside of the U.S.
I’ve seen information suggesting that 3G roaming is (or at least was) possible with modest charges. I haven’t confirmed that this kind of roaming is still possible.
- A FierceWireless article from 2015 indicated that Verizon had 21 LTEiRA partners. I’m not sure how many partners there are today.