why would a cell phone not work in an area?

I’m shopping for a new cell phone, so I went on WalMart’s web site and clicked on a cheap phone with the Straight Talk plan, and the Straight Talk network appears to be pretty solid nation-wide. Then a little box popped up to “Check if this phone will work in your area,” so I typed in my zip code (which is in New York City), and it said the phone would not work in my area.

Why would that be the case? Shouldn’t any phone attached to that network work anywhere in the network’s coverage area?

See link for more information. Phones from this supplier use different carriers. You probably should investigate which has the best signal in your area and then get a model that uses that carrier.

http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2011/12/how-to-get-tracfone-net10-or-straight.html

Your carrier has to have a tower within a few miles of you for your phone to work. It’s like sticking a WiFi hotspot on a tower – if you get too far from the tower you lose the signal.

Now, the overall coverage area map isn’t very precise and they like it that way. So if you glance at the nationwide map it looks like there’s a signal everywhere in the US. But if you zoom in, you’ll see it’s actually like Swiss cheese and there are holes everywhere.

A good app to use is Open Signal Map. It will tell you where your local towers are located and what their signal strength is at any given location.

I should mention that the big carriers share each other’s towers, but the MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators – Straight Talk, PTel, Net10 and the like who just rent bandwidth from AT&T and the other big carriers) don’t. So the cheaper pre-pay “carriers” will have a lot more holes in their coverage than getting a plan with AT&T or T-Mobile will.