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The Differences of GSM and CDMA Technology

There are two main components competing when it comes to network technologies:

  • GSM – Global System for Mobile Communications
  • CDMA – Code Division Multiple Access

The cell phone carriers, such as, Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, etc…, will either use one or the other. Through having an understanding of the differences between the two technologies you’ll be able to make the choice of a carrier which uses the network technology that’s the most preferable for you and your needs.

With regards to GSM, the GSM Association is an organization that was founded back in 1987 and is an international organization. They’re dedicated toward providing, overseeing and developing the worldwide GSM wireless standard.

With the other technology CDMA is a standard which is proprietary and was designed by the United States Company, Qualcomm. The CDMA standard has been the more dominate standard when it comes to North America as well as some parts of Asia.

Keeping that in mind, GSM networks are continuing to make inroads within the United States. This is happening as CDMA networks are making their progress throughout other parts of the world.

There are camps on the GSM side and camps on the CDMA side. Both of those camps have the firm belief that the architecture of their technology is far superior to the technology on the other side. With that said, to the consumer that’s not invested in either of the technologies and who simply wants to get the information, bottom lined, some of the following considerations will come in quite handy and helpful to get legitimate information to make a decision.


Obviously, one huge consideration is always that of coverage. This is likely the single most important factor when you’re looking to get service in your area. So you’re going to want to look at the different carrier’s cell phone service within your area. Upon doing so you’re likely going to find that the carriers in your area might only offer one or the other. If that’s the case for you than there’s obviously no decision for you to make, however, most people are going to find out that they do actually have a choice.

Data Transfer Speeds

Our cell phones are something which now pulls double and sometimes even triple duty now as they can stream video, receive podcasts, email and more. Speed is something that’s very important to those that want to use their cell phone as something much more than just simply making a phone call. GSM has traditionally been slower than CDMA; however, both of the technologies do continue to leapfrog rapidly along this particular path. Both are able to make the boast of the 3rd generation, or 3G, standard technology.

EVDO is something that’s known also by CDMA2000. EVDO is the answer of CDMA to the speed need through a downstream rate of right around 2mbps, however, there are some reports that are going to make the suggestion that the speeds in the real world are somewhat closer to around the 300 to 700kbps range. This is something that’s comparable to that of DSL. As of 2005 EVDO has been in the process of deployment. It’s something that’s still not available everywhere and it also requires you to have a CDMA2000 ready phone.

The answer of GSM is something called EDGE. EDGE stands for Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution. EDGE has data rates of up to 384kbps although the reported real world speeds are actually closer to 70 to 140kbps. There are some additional technologies that are currently in the works. Some of those include speed increases of around 275 to 380kbps and are:

  • HSDPA – High-speed Downlink Packet Access
  • UMTS – Universal Mobile Telephone Standard

This is a technology which is also known as W-CDMA; however, it’s actually not compatible with CDMA networks. It also has the requirement of an EDGE ready phone.

With regards to EVDO the theoretical high traffic speeds are something that can degrade both performance and speed. The EDGE network is something that’s more susceptible to interference. Both of them require that you’re within a close range of a cell in order to get the best possible speeds while performance is something that’s going to go down the further the distance you get.

SIM Cards

Within the United States only the GSM phones will use a SIM card. The removable SIM cards are something that allows the phones to be:

  • Activated instantly
  • Swapped out
  • Interchanged

All of that is able to be done without the intervention form any carrier. The SIM itself is something that’s tied to a network rather than an actual phone. The phone that’s card enabled is able to be used with any GSM carrier.

The equivalent for CDMA is an RUIM card which is mostly available in just parts of Asia; however, it is still on the horizon to come to the United States market. The CDMA carriers that are in the United States have a requirement of proprietary handsets which are linked to only one carrier and aren’t card enabled. In order to upgrade to a CDMA phone the carrier has to first deactivate the older phone and then activate the newer one. The older phone is then going to become completely useless.


On the whole both of the networks have coverage that’s fairly concentrated within the major cities and along the major highways. The GSM carriers though have roaming contracts with the other GSM carriers. This is something that allows a much wider coverage area when it comes to the areas that are more rural and often this is without charging roaming to the customer. The CDMA networks might not cover the rural areas quite as well as the GSM carriers. Although they might contract with a GSM cell for roaming in the rural areas the charges that the customer will see are often going to be quite higher.

International Roaming

If you’re someone that travels and makes calls from other countries or you call other countries the GSM carriers can offer you some international roaming capability. The reason for this is that the GSM networks have domination in the world market. If you’re something that’s travelling to another country it’s possible that you might even be able to use your GSM cell phone while abroad. This is under the assumption that your phone is a phone which is quad band:

  • 850/900/1800/1900MHz

Through the purchase of a SIM card that has minutes and also a local number within the country that you’re visiting you’re able to make calls against that card in order to save yourself the fees that come along with international roaming from your carrier back at home. The CDMA cell phones which aren’t card enabled obviously don’t have this ability; however, there are a lot of countries that do use a CDMA network. You’ll need to be sure that you check with your CDMA provider to see if they are able to fit your specific requirements.

Related posts:

  1. What is the Difference Between GSM and CDMA?
  2. CDMA Cell Phone Battery Life
  3. What is CDMA Used For?
  4. CDMA Users Can Now Get the iPhone 4 Too
  5. An Overview of 4G Technology
  6. What does CDMA stand for?
  7. What is Roaming?
  8. Are US Clients Really Going to Get 4G?
  9. Froyo or Gingerbread? What Are the Differences?
  10. Explanation of 3G

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