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GSM & CDMA – What Do They F*!ing Mean? (we said foxing)



So you’re clicking around on the search for a new wireless carrier, trying to decide the best plan for you when you come across two acronyms you probably have not heard or don’t quite understand exactly what they mean: GSM and CDMA. Price, coverage, quality, and support are all important in your decision to switch – but what about the technology that makes your wireless work? Kick your feet up cause we’re going to make it real easy to understand.


Switching service providers means that you need to take a look at your phone so you know if it will work on your new carrier. All cell phones are set up to be either GSM or CDMA compatible. But what the f*! does that mean? (we said fox!). GSM and CDMA are two similar, but incompatible, ways that phones connect to a wireless network.



First up GSM. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications and it needs a SIM card to work. Here’s an easy way to think about it: GSM has three letters and so does SIM! Pretty clever, right? GSM is now considered the standard for communication around the globe and is available in over 210 countries worldwide. And it is also what Mint Mobile runs on!


Switching phones on GSM

To be a GSM carrier, a carrier must accept any GSM-compliant phone that has a SIM card on their network. Which is kinda great, because that means GSM carriers don’t have total control over the phone you use as your data is on that removable SIM card in your phone.  This makes it much easier to switch phones while on the GSM network – you take your data to whichever phone you want. All you need to do is take the SIM card out, put it in another GSM unlocked phone, and voila! The new phone now has your number.



The second technology is CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access, and it was designed and patented by Qualcomm awhile back. But because of its proprietary nature (fancy talk for owned by one company), CDMA hasn’t seen the global adoption that GSM has. Less than 18% of the networks around the world use CDMA. A few carriers that still use it are Sprint, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile.


Switching phones on CDMA

It’s not as easy to switch phones on CDMA as GSM. You typically need your carrier’s permission to switch, and your number is linked to your device and can’t travel with you. This might make your life difficult if you travel internationally often and want your phone number to stay the same. Or if you want to upgrade to another phone, you would have to get in touch with the carrier, de-activate your old device and activate the new one. In the United States, CDMA carriers use network-based white lists to verify their subscribers. That means you can only switch phones with your carrier’s permission, and a carrier doesn’t have to accept any particular phone onto its network. Lots more restrictions.


Why Switch To GSM?

GSM is the best choice in our global world! Don’t waste precious time dealing with a complicated carrier that makes it impossible to leave when you could be planning a trip, hanging out with fam and friends, or pretty much doing ANYTHING else,

GSM has the upper hand when it comes to premium service worldwide – you can pick up a local SIM card no matter where you land (assuming your device is unlocked), pop open the SIM drive with a paperclip, insert your local SIM card, and go about your day.


Are you a GSM or a CDMA? Got questions about the technology? Let us know in the comments below.