So you, like many, have decided to switch carriers with the iPhone 5? You could go data only but perhaps you still need the phone part of the iPhone. Let's say for instance you are tired of the customer-hostile management at AT&T and want to move to Verizon. Just, you know, as an example.
Let's rundown what you will need to make the switch and any pitfalls you might hit. It's a fairly simple process, but there are some things you should know first, before starting.
Double check your new carrier choice
While you can look at coverage maps online to see where your new carrier of choice has coverage (see below for quick reference). It's always best to double check the service in the places that matter most to you. For most people this is going to be home and work. Find someone you know on your new carrier in or near those locations and check their signal strength as close to those locations as you can.
This is a much more reliable way to test that your new carrier will have service where it matters to you most.
Call your current carrier, and be nice
It's a good idea to call your current carrier to find out what your early termination fees will be, if any. They may give you the tough sell and try to get you to stay. Be careful though, unless the deal is killer and enough to sway you, they could renew your contract for another two years if you agree to a new plan rate.
Try to be nice to them, even though you are likely fed up by now. Remember that the person you are talking to doesn't set the policies or prices.
If any of your phones are still under contract, you'll be looking at an early termination fee. This will be somewhere around $350 minus $10/per month fulfilled in your contract depending on when you signed up and what carrier you have. And that's for each line still under contract.
If you are out of contract, the carrier you are switching from shouldn't charge you anything to cancel, except perhaps a small account change fee; they get you whenever they can.
Make the Switch
To actually pull the trigger and make the switch you'll create a new account at your new carrier of choice. This is typically done when you order your new phone. In this case we'll assume you are ordering the iPhone 5. You'll create the account during the ordering process and then cancel your old account after your new phone is all set up and working.
You'll need your current mobile phone number, your account number, and your account password from your current carrier to make the switch. Though those things are only needed if you wish to keep your current phone number. If you are getting a new number, you'll just need to call your current provider to cancel your account once the new one is working.
Next you'll need to decide if you want to do the switch online or in a store. Each has it's advantages. In store you will have someone who will help you walk through the process. If you do it online you won't need to wait in any lines.
Make the Switch Online
You can pre-order the iPhone 5 and switch carriers at the same time. Here's what you need to know to do so.
First, during the order process you want to create a new account with your new carrier. You will likely need to choose what level of service you want to for the new account and then continue.
Next, you will have two choices when you order your phone online. You can either keep your current phone number (called number porting), or you can get a new one. Think about both options, you may want a new number, especially if your old boyfriend/girlfriend keeps bugging you.
If you want to keep your current number, at some point during the process it will ask for your current phone number, your account number and password with your current carrier. The account number and password are what you typically use to login to your carrier's site to check your account. For some carriers, your account number may be the same as your phone number.
Enter this and it will walk you though the process to port the number. A couple more steps and you'll likely be asked for your Social Security Number as the carrier will want to do a credit check before opening your account.
Finish the process answering things like your billing address, then do the normal hardware ordering process, pay for it, and then wait. And skip to The Switch is Done below.
Make the Switch In Store
By far the easiest way to do this is to go to the carrier you want to move to. After all they are incentivized (and the salesperson usually gets commission) to get you set up properly. You can also go the the Apple Store to do this and it will be just about as easy.
When you get to the store let them know that you want to create a new account with your new carrier. They will get the information needed and help you pick a service level plan. You will need to decide if you want to keep your current phone number (called number porting), or you can get a new one. Think about both options, you may want a new number, especially if your old boyfriend or girlfriend keeps bugging you.
The sales assistant will need your phone number, account number and password with your current carrier. The account number and password are what you typically use to login to your carrier's site to check your account. For some carriers your account number may be the same as your phone number.
The rest of the process will be fairly straightforward, filling out forms with your address, billing info, etc.
The Switch is Done
Ok, the switch is done, your phone is ordered, now what?
Nothing will really happen until you get and activate your new iPhone. When that happens, your phone number will transfer over and your old account will be a zombie. This will likely happen in store if you go that route, or when you plug in your phone for the first time if you order it online. If you ported over your number, that will take 1-3 hours from when your new phone is turned on. Once that's done your phone number will ring to your new phone on your new carrier.
Once you have your new phone, new account, and everything is in working order, it's a good idea to call your old carrier again. You will need to close the account down and pay any termination fees. If you don't close your account, they may just keep it open and assign you new phone numbers and keep charging you.
While talking to them, ask them to unlock your phone as well. It will make it worth a bit more money down the road.
Backup and Restore Your Old iPhone
If you already have an iPhone you'll likely want to use iCloud or iTunes to backup and restore your phone. This will bring over all your apps, preferences, and data to your new phone. Here's our Howto backup your device with iTunes or iCloud guide that will walk you through that.
Enjoy your new iPhone and your new carrier!
They will hopefully be better for you. Remember that each carrier has dead spots, don't expect your phone to magically work everywhere. And the dead spots that you memorized for your old carrier will likely be different now. You phone may get reception in places it didn't before and will likely not get reception in all new places. Hopefully you did step one above to make sure it works in the places most important to you.
Consider donating your old phone to a charity that helps people in need. Or you could sell it, hopefully as an unlocked phone. Just make sure to wipe the old phone's data before you get rid of it (instructions in the above linked backup post).
Here's a quick reference to some of the items you may need in helping you decide if you want to switch carriers.