What’s The Difference Between Tier 1, 2 and 3 Carriers, And Who Are They In The US?

Whats The Difference Between Tier 12 and 3 Carriers And Who Are They Whats The Difference Between Tier 1, 2 and 3 Carriers, And Who Are They In The US?Delving into the technical aspects of wireless carriers and how they operate, one interesting concept relates to how the carriers access and distribute its network backbone- meaning mobile voice and data services.  You’ve likely heard the terms “tier-1″ or tier-2″ carriers, but what does it mean and how do the major US carriers stack up?

Put simply, a tier-1 carrier possess a network in which it’s the sole operator- meaning it has a direct connection to the Internet and the networks it uses to deliver voice and data services.  Similarly, a tier-2 carrier operates the same way, except it may get a portion of its network from a tier-1 operator by way of a concept known as “peering,” which can be loosely defined as piggybacking onto the network already in place by a tier-1 source.  Tier-3 refers to a carrier who gets 100% of its network through a tier-1 or tier-2 operator, with no direct-access of its own.

The landscape in the US has changed dramatically in recent years, with consolidation of smaller carrier making way for a select group of premiere carriers- mainly AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.  All four of the aforementioned wireless carriers are tier-1 carriers, meaning they don’t borrow network capacity from anyone else.  These four tier-1 operators have been busy acquiring tier-2 and tier-3 carriers in an attempt to broaden its subscriber base, leaving very few independent tier-2 and 3 operators in the US.  An example of a tier-2 carrier in the US is U.S Cellular, who has an agreement in place with Sprint for voice and data coverage.

A tier-2 or tier-3 carrier is most likely a smaller, regionally-based carrier focusing on smaller networks, who can simply buy voice and data coverage from one of the big guys (a tier-1 operator) and re-sell it to its subscribers without those subscribers knowing the difference.  From a marketing standpoint, however, working with tier-1, 2 or 3 carrier can make a difference in terms of distribution- especially in terms of SMS and other network-specific channels.  In the end, it remains a technical aspect of wireless carriers that most consumers will never need to worry about, but if you’re a mobile marketer targeting carrier-specific channels, it’s definitely worth your time to do some homework and become familiar with the concept.

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