September 5, 2008, Newsletter Issue #166: CMDA vs. GSM: The Difference in Network Technology

Tip of the Week

GSM vs. CDMA? Are these new software platforms? No. But what you don't know about can affect you. Two types of network technology are commonly used in the United States: CDMA and GSM. These will vary by carrier.

The network technology used by popular carriers such as Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless, Nextel, Alltel is called CDMA. CDMA is an acronym for Code Division Multiple Access. This network is limited in who can and cannot access it so it does not provide for access outside of designated CDMA areas. Like Windows trying to run on a Mac, CDMA cell phones are not transferable from carrier to carrier therefore if the user desires to switch carriers a new phone will need to be purchased and set up.

The second common network technology is GSM or Global System for Mobile Communications. This network is the most popular worldwide with international carriers such as Cingular and T-Mobile. This network allows cell phones place calls worldwide by accessing other carriers' networks. Although the charge per minute to use other carriers' networks may be large, this technology ensures a connection can be made and is ideal for the international traveler.

If you want an all-purpose network, GSM (though many users complain about the availability and the network problems) is a great choice, but if you need secure communications, CDMA is ideal--no surprise, since CDMA has been used in military applications.

To know what network or carrier suits your needs, you need to know GSM and CDMA. Tip: If you're with T-Mobile or another provider on the GSM network, your phone will usually display "GSM" near those Cingular or Blackberry bars.

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