Wireless Service

Does Virgin Mobile Use GSM, and What Happened to Virgin Mobile?

By
Kyle Reyes
November 2, 2022

Virgin Mobile did not use a GSM network. When they were around, they piggybacked off Sprint’s network, and Sprint was also a CDMA (the bad one) network. In the last two years, however, times have changed. Companies have merged, and, well, Virgin Mobile still doesn’t use a GSM network but that’s because they don’t exist anymore! Read on for the story about how that all happened, the differences between a GSM and CDMA network, and how Boost Mobile (which absorbed Virgin Mobile) is doing today! 

GSM Versus CDMA — What’s the Difference? 

Cell towers are all over the nation, but are they towers for GSM or CDMA networks? Well, probably GSM!

These two acronyms are the main ways that wireless providers connect your phone to its network. In a few words, CDMA networks are a thing of the past and are making way for GSM networks. Let’s jump into the similarities, differences, and whether or not Virgin Mobile uses GSM. 

What is GSM?

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications. It is the standard for wireless networks and it’s being used almost everywhere in the world. SIM cards and GSM phones go hand-in-hand, as every GSM phone requires a SIM Card to work. GSMs are the major networks in over 210 countries, and that number will likely increase as time goes on. 

Switching Phones on GSM

Since phones on GSM are tied so closely to their SIM card, swapping phones and carriers with a GSM phone is a piece of cake! Your phone number and all of your account info is stored on the SIM card so if you pop it out of your phone and place it into a new one. Once you make the switch, all your account info is on your new phone. Now, it is not always quite so simple, as we will get into later, but GSM phones are undoubtedly easier to handle than their CDMA companions. 

What is CDMA?

CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access, which is a technology that was created and patented by a company called Qualcomm a number of years ago. It’s never risen to the global stardom of GSM, but there is still a portion of carriers who use CDMA. Verizon is, in fact, one of those carriers. Many of their old phones run on CDMA, which will become a problem because Verizon has announced that they are shutting down their CDMA network by 2023. A lot of their phones are GSM phones already, which goes to show the superior nature of GSM networks. 

Switching Phones on CDMA

If you have a CDMA phone you don’t have a SIM card, instead, your phone number and all that account information are stored directly on the phone. If you’re guessing that it’s a bit harder to swap phones if you’re using CDMA — you’re right! You have to contact your current carrier and have them deactivate your old phone (which is done by popping out your SIM card on a GSM phone) and activate your new phone on their network (which is done by popping in your SIM card on a GSM phone). 

This whole process is significantly more challenging. 

GSM Versus CDMA

If you are choosing between GSM and CDMA for your new phone, GSM is the definitive answer. GSM phones make switching a piece of cake, and since they can work on so many networks, you can even scoop up a new SIM card internationally and pop it right into your phone and you’re good to go! As long as your phone is unlocked it can attach to just about any carrier under the sun. But can it attach to Virgin Mobile? 

Does Virgin Mobile Use GSM?

Cell phones are a part of our daily lives, and the ease with which we are able to transfer our info from one phone to another with GSM SIM cards is a great thing. 

Bad news, friend. Virgin Mobile used CDMA technology. Even worse news — Virgin Mobile doesn’t exist anymore! It merged with Boost Mobile back in 2020. When the merger happened, both Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile operated on Sprint’s network, and Sprint was a CDMA network. Unfortunately, your Boost Mobile phone, in 2020, was much harder to maneuver than GSM phones out there. 

You may have noticed the past tense. That is because, also in 2020, Sprint merged with T-Mobile. In the following two years, T-Mobile moonlit all of its CDMA technology and switched to an entirely GSM network. Woo-hoo! This means you get to bask in the awesomeness of GSM phones. We bet that your current Boost Mobile phone has a SIM card inside of it right now. 

While we’re here, let’s talk about Boost Mobile’s phone plans! They have a variety of well-priced plans that could be a great choice for you. 

Boost Mobile Phone Plans

Boost Mobile offers five phone plans at five different price points. Let’s check them out. 

Boost Mobile’s 1 GB Plan

Only available online, Boost Mobile’s secret new customer plan comes in at $8.33 a month. That’s a pretty great value for someone who does not use a lot of data when they are out and about. With how data-intensive everything is, if you are using any amount of data regularly during the day you will probably see your 1 GB get all used up quickly. It will be enough, however, to call an uber every now and again, boot up Maps when you’re lost, and browse the web! 

Boost Mobile’s 2 GB Plan

Boost Mobile’s lowest-tier plan is well priced at $15 a month and gives you 2 GB of data. All of Boost Mobile’s plans come with unlimited talk and text, which is a nice touch. This one does not provide too much more value than the previous plan, as 1 GB versus 2 GB is still a very small amount of data to spend over the course of a month.  

Boost Mobile’s 5 GB Plan

Coming up next is Boost Mobile’s 5 GB plan for $25 a month. This is starting to be a fair amount of data that will allow you to use it, at your discretion, over the course of the month. With this plan, and all of Boost’s other plans, if you go over your total monthly allotment of data you are throttled down to slow speeds but you aren’t charged for overages! The slow speeds are really slow, but you can still do some very basic functions on your phone, like calling, texting, and emailing! 

Boost Mobile’s 10 GB Plan

Climbing up the ladder, the next floor is Boost Mobile’s 10 GB plan. For $35 a month you have access to 10 GB of high-speed data before getting throttled. This is pretty nice. Out of all of their plans, we recommend this one to the average user. As long as you don’t spend an hour a day (on data) browsing social media or streaming video we reckon that 10 GB will be more than enough when it comes to light data usage. If you have the chance, check out your usage statistics on your phone as a guide to which plan is the best for you. 

Boost Mobile’s 35 GB Plan

For heavy data users, Boost Mobile’s 35 GB plan is priced at $50 a month and comes with 12 GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data. This plan is very well priced for people who are out and about all the time, using their phones for a variety of data-intense activities. So many applications these days use a huge amount of data, and even 10 GB can pass without a trace, leaving you with slow mobile data. Once you’ve got 35 GB on your plan you are good to go. 

This plan and their highest tier plan are the first Boost Mobile plans that feature multi-line savings as a part of their plan. Any line added on top of this one is only $30 a month! That makes a two-line plan a great way to make this one even cheaper than it already is!

Boost Mobile’s 35 GB Plus Plan

Boost Mobile’s highest-tier plan comes in the form of its unlimited plus plan. It comes with 35 GB of high-speed data and 30 GB of mobile hotspot data available for your use. This is a great plan for people who use a ton of data and have regular use for their mobile hotspots as well. It is all too common for people who have access to a mobile hotspot each month to let those GBs slip away just because they don’t need to use them. When that is the case they are often paying more for their cell phone plan than they need to. Don’t be one of those people! 

If you are intrigued by this plan, we recommend starting at a lower plan, whether it's the 35 GB plan or one of the lower ones and check out how much data you are using regularly. If you are using more than your plan allows then you can switch up to a higher-tier plan with ease. But, if you are content at the lower tier then you can save money each month by only getting what you need! 

What Happened to Virgin Mobile? 

Back in 2020, Sprint (the operator of Virgin Mobile) announced that the company was going to be shut down and that its customers were to be transferred to Boost Mobile. Both Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile ran off of Sprint’s network so the transfer of customers was not too bad. As we discussed in the previous section since Virgin Mobile did not use GSM their customers had to go through some extra hoops when they transferred to Boost, but because the whole company was supporting the switch all their customers at the time had the resources they needed to get back up and running on Boost after they got booted off of Virgin Mobile.

Virgin and Boost Mobile

Virgin and Boost Mobile are both MVNOs, which means they don’t have their own network. They operate off of Sprint’s nationwide network and are able to operate on a different set of rules than the major networks. More about that in the following section!

Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)

There are so many wireless networks dotting the nation. MVNOs are a newer type of company, but one that has firmed its foundation and become a fantastic option for cellular service. 

Mobile virtual network operators are the names given to all of the phone companies (of which there are many) that operate through another major company's network. The major networks in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, T Mobile, and US Cellular. The major benefit of MVNOs is lowered costs while the major downside is that the major network’s customers get priority during times of high bandwidth usage which results in slower speeds for MVNO customers at that time. If you are living in Hawaii and are looking to get hooked on a very affordable plan that still has awesome cell phone coverage, check out this section about all things MVNO! 

Over the years, MVNOs became a very popular and viable option for getting a quality phone plan. This section will discuss how they work as well as some pros and cons of using an MVNO instead of a major cellular network. 

How Does an MVNO Work?

An MVNO is a phone company that supplies phone plans but does not have a network of its own. MVNOs piggyback off of existing cell phone towers of one or multiple major network providers. Some use one major network but others, like Google Fi, utilize multiple networks depending on where they have the best coverage. This will result in customers either getting assigned a network based on where they are located, or, with certain devices, switching from network to network based on which one is fastest where they are. 

MVNO customers have access to the same high-speed network as customers of the parent network, but since the parent network’s customers are prioritized, sometimes their cellular runs slow.

Example MVNO — Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile provides phone plans with T-Mobile’s network, providing comprehensive network coverage all over the nation and fast speeds almost all the time.

Boost Mobile benefits from T-Mobile’s network while continuing to provide cheap phone plans to its customers. To combat their deprioritization, Boost Mobile has capped the streaming speed while using data in order to lessen their overall impact on the bandwidth. This lessens the chance that they would ever face that big fear of MVNOs — that they are getting deprioritized because so much data is being used, resulting in slow cellular data until things quiet down. 

Pros of MVNOs

The big pro of an MVNO is that they can offer cheaper plans than major carriers. Alongside that, MVNOs are able to operate in a different sphere. T-Mobile is competing mainly with Verizon and AT&T for its customers while MVNOs are competing with other MVNOs. In terms of service, there are not too many differences between getting your cellular plan through an MVNO and getting it through one of the major providers. 

MVNO phone plans are so cheap because they don’t have to run their own network. They can focus on providing high-quality and affordable plans with all of their perks and incredible multi-line discounts since they are an MVNO and not a major service provider. 

Alongside that, MVNOs are not a new kind of service provider. They have provided great service to lots of people for decades, making them a reliable source of affordable phone plans. 

Cons of MVNOs

The major con of using an MVNO is the deprioritized service. When a major company is under stress from high data usage, the MVNOs are the first customers to experience a slowdown in internet speeds. Of course, this does not affect Wi-Fi speeds, just the speed of your cellular data. 

MVNOs also do not always support the wide variety of different phones that are supported by major carriers. You can check the MVNO website for a list of the phones that they support.

How are you feeling after this deep dive into the history of Virgin Mobile and the difference between GSM and CDMA networks? Tired? Us too. We hope that this sleepy puppy is enough to revitalize you to get back to what you were doing prior to checking out this article about Virgin Mobile. Once more, before we go — Virgin Mobile does not use GSM, but Boost Mobile does! If you are looking to switch to Boost Mobile and you have an unlocked GSM phone you should be able to complete the switch with no problems at all!

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.