CDMA vs GSM: What is the Difference and Which is Better?


Most cell phone users around the world only have to worry about one carrier technology. It is called the Global System for Mobile Communications, or GSM for short.

As the name suggests, this standard has been developed and accepted by almost everyone as a means of communicating through mobile calls.

But not everyone has jumped into the GSM network. Many carriers around the world use another cellular standard known as Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA.

It is most popular in the United States and Russia. However, it is also used in some countries in Asia and Africa, often in conjunction with competing GSM operators.

Understanding the difference between the Code Division Multiple Access and the Global System for Mobile (CDMA vs GSM), two legacy radio communications standards, is crucial for buyers who buy a new smartphone or switch carriers.

International travellers should pay special attention to the differences to avoid jamming a phone that isn’t working where it should. CDMA and GSM convert your smartphone data into radio waves.

Today, they represent an increasingly obsolete 2G and 3G radio system based on competing technologies.

Today we will give you all the necessary information you need to understand the differences between CDMA vs GSM. Each of these communication technologies has different advantages and disadvantages which make CDMA better than GSM or vice versa.

Now let’s start discussing the main details of these two technologies.

Table of Contents

What is CDMA?

Code Division Multiple Access, CDMA is known as a digital radio system supporting a network of mobile phones. The allies of the Second World War developed the system. CDMA gives users full access to the online spectrum.

This allows multiple users to connect to the network at the same time and also securely encrypt each user’s conversation via random digital stream.

CDMA encrypts each user’s conversation via a pseudo-random digital string to protect voice data and make it private. Therefore, voice call data is protected so that it can only be received by those participating in the call.

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In the past, CDMA-compatible cell phones did not use SIM cards. Each device is specifically designed to work only with a specific network provider. This means that mobile phones are connected to the operator and its network.

For consumers, it used to indicate that phones were tied to the carrier and its bands, so if you want to change service providers, you’ll have to buy a new phone. Now that has changed as a network service provider running CDMA started using SIM cards to cover LTE.

CDMA is often found in the United States and Russia, along with GSM. CDMA gives users full access to the full range of tapes, allowing multiple users to connect at any time.

What is GSM?

Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM is known as a time division technology that divides the transmission signal into separate time terminals for each device (CDMA is code division, which means that a specific digital code separates users).

GSM established the Telecommunications Standards Institute in Europe in the early 1980s. This European institute founded a group called Groupe Speciale Mobile (also abbreviated GSM) to create a digital mobile communication system.

The main aim was to develop a better network for the whole of the European continent with a more efficient technical solution for wireless communication.

GSM is the standard system for most countries around the world. Between 80% and 90% of the world uses GSM technology for wireless calling, with a few exceptions in the United States and Russia.

GSM communication networks use Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), which allocates time slots to multiple voice streams, alternating them in sequence and switching between each call at very short intervals.

At these intervals, the phones can transmit information. So as for the network to know which users are connected to the network, each phone uses a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card.

Since the first introduction of SIM cards in the 90s, GSM phones have featured a SIM card that allows users to change their phone number and personal information to any other unlocked GSM phone.

SIM cards are one of the main characteristics of GSM networks. They contain your service subscription, network identification, and address book information.

Cards also allocate time to a phone call and tell the network what services you can access. They can also be used to transfer data between phones if the operator allows it.

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Although GSM technology is the most widely used technology in the world, the United States continues to work with the CDMA network and GSM network.

However, 2G GSM in the country is dying out due to the advent of the 5G network, which is the fifth and newest generation of mobile communications.

Speaking of cellular frequency bands, many GSM mobile phones support three frequency bands (900/1800/900MHz or 850/1800/900MHz) or four bands (850/900/1800/1900 MHz).

Cell phones that support tri-band phones are usually referred to as tri-band phones while others are called quad-band phones or world phones because you can travel abroad and use the same smartphone.

CDMA vs GSM: What is the difference?

Since the onset of mobile phone technology, the use of SIM cards has been the main difference between CDMA vs GSM. Under GSM, users can remove the SIM card and then insert it into the new phone.

At the same time, users should follow the terms and conditions of their CDMA operators if they want to change phones.

Using SIM cards

The main difference between CDMA vs GSM is the use of SIM cards. Under GSM, users can remove the SIM card and then insert it into the new phone. On the other hand, people who use CDMA will follow the terms and conditions and call their CDMA service providers if they want to change phones.

Call Quality

The call quality of the two nationwide networks depends mainly on network coverage. GSM users may benefit from better voice quality than CDMA users or vice versa in some areas. Also, the GSM network can transmit voice and data at the same time.

On the other hand, not every CDMA phones can transmit voice and data at the same time. Besides network congestion, the quality of CDMA calls is generally better than the quality of GSM.

Network Coverage

GSM uses dedicated network poles and also allows global roaming. In contrast, the pillars of the CDMA network are more widespread, have more excellent coverage, but only limited roaming capabilities. Today, most of the world’s users use GSM, but half of the population of the United States, Canada and Japan still uses CDMA.

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International Roaming

In the local market, it doesn’t matter what type of network it is, with the emphasis instead on the coverage available.

However, when it is about international roaming, GSM has an advantage, along with many other GSM networks around the world, as well as roaming agreements between these service providers.

With a GSM phone, one also has the advantage of taking a local SIM card with you wherever you are, assuming you have an unlocked device. However, you may not get full access to data connectivity, depending on device and network compatibility.

CDMA vs GSM: The future

With the introduction of 4G and the adoption of LTE and LTE-Advanced as the standard of most network operators around the world, the discussion of GSM and CDMA is becoming less and less important every day.

You may have noticed that modern smartphones designed for CDMA networks are also equipped with SIM card slots, to take advantage of the capabilities of the 4G LTE network.

With the transition to 5G, the choice between GSM and CDMA becomes even less relevant as voice calling technologies move more and more towards data network brands.

Today, the argument is only a consideration, as 2G and 3G networks are still used on the backbone of network voice technologies. Eventually, these bands will be reused, and networks will move away from this older voice technology.

Although GSM and CDMA phones cannot be replaced even now and will never be compatible with each other, it will not make any difference as we continue to move towards more advanced 4G and 5G networks.

If international roaming is not a factor, when it comes to your 3G data and voice calling needs, GSM and CDMA networks are equally good, with factors such as availability, coverage, customer service and the price, here are other roles.

It should also be noted that many CDMA phones also support GSM roaming technology, so international travellers don’t have to worry too much about this anymore.

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