GSM vs. CDMA Explained

Posted: January 28, 2015

Overview

Before we get into the details of each technology, let's get the acronyms out of the way. CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access and GSM is the acronym for Global System for Mobile Communications. Now you can forget them, because everyone just uses the acronyms anyway. If you were to look up the Wikipedia entries for GSM and CDMA, you would find that they are so technical that they are not very helpful for most people. The point of this article is to simplify and summarize the differences in the two technologies so that no matter what your level of expertise, you can understand what kind of phones you can buy and the benefits and disadvantages of each.

CDMA and GSM are like different digital languages

Both CDMA and GSM can be broadly described as mobile networking protocols that use different technologies to send information back and forth via radio waves. They are primarily used in mobile phones, but many tablets, laptops, or anything else connected to a mobile network will also use one of these technologies. CDMA and GSM are like different digital languages. GSM devices can only talk to and understand GSM equipment (primarily cell phone towers) and CDMA devices can only communicate with CDMA networks.

The component in the mobile phone that enables it to communicate through these technologies is generally referred to as the “radio,” as its purpose is to convert information being sent out into radio waves and to interpret radio waves coming back into something that can be understood by your device.

Which Mobile Providers use GSM vs. CDMA?

In the US, Sprint and Verizon use CDMA while AT&T and T-mobile use GSM. In the rest of the world, GSM is the standard with only infrequent pockets of CDMA.

GSM vs. CDMA: What You Need to Know
GSM CDMA
SIM Card: X
Unlocked Phones: X
3G Network Speed:
4G LTE Networks: Carriers use GSM standard for LTE
US Networks: AT&T and T-mobile Verizon and Sprint