I wonder if switching SIM Cards is the answer? From what I've learned from others here at these forums is that Tracfone sometimes sells even the same model GSM-type phone, but with different SIM Cards, which essentially means that if the phone includes a P4 Sim Card that it will primarily use an AT&T network, and those with a P5 Sim will primarily use a T-mobile network. And that while there will sometimes be roaming between AT&T and T-Mobile networked Tracfones, that the extent to which the phones will roam to each other towers (SIM4 vs SIM5) isn't exactly known. (Or something like that???) So maybe your buddy's phone uses primarilly T-mobile towers and your phone primarilly ATT, or vice versa. If so, then maybe switching SIMs might help? Maybe. Not positive.
I suppose the other more obvious potential resolution would be to just dump your current phone and try to find one exactly like your buddy's, model and SIM-card type and all.