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GSM vs. CDMA – What’s the F*!ng difference? (We said foxing)

By Mint Fox

Originally published February 10, 2022


Last Updated March 3, 2023

mint mobile fox learning the difference between gsm vs cdma

You’re shopping for a new wireless carrier; you’re most likely looking at coverage, price, devices and how cool their mascot is. But one thing you should also consider is whether their network technology is GSM vs CDMA. These two similar but incompatible ways of connecting to a wireless network can be a huge difference maker, depending on your wireless usage habits. Let’s dig into what makes each one unique so you can decide what’s best for you.

In this article
mint mobile phones on GSM

What is GSM?

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications and it is considered the standard for wireless communications around the world. The thing most people associate with GSM is SIM cards because a GSM phone requires a SIM card to work. An easy way to remember this is there are three letters in GSM and three letters in SIM (clever, eh?). GSM is currently available in over 210 countries. It’s also what Mint Mobile runs on.

Switching phones on GSM

GSM’s use of SIM cards makes switching phones (or carriers) almost effortless. Your phone number and account information are all stored on the SIM card, so you can place that SIM card into any unlocked GSM phone and voila – now that phone has your number. This is not only incredibly convenient but also comes with the peace of mind knowing that your mobile carrier doesn’t have full control over the phone you use. 

mint mobile showing phones on CDMA

What is CDMA?

CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access, is a wireless technology that was designed and patented by Qualcomm years ago. Its proprietary nature (AKA owned by one company) has prevented it from being adopted globally in the same way GSM has. A very small fraction of carriers worldwide still use CDMA. In the US, Verizon is one of these carriers, for the time being. They have announced that they will be decommissioning their CDMA network by 2023, leaving a lot of their older devices without a network.

Switching phones on CDMA

When you have a CDMA phone, the number and account info are linked to the device itself, not a removable SIM card. This makes changing phones far more difficult. You would need to contact your CDMA carrier to have them deactivate your old phone and activate a new one on their network, with their approval. In the United States, CDMA carriers use network-based white lists to verify their subscribers and aren’t required to accept just any phone onto their network. With these kinds of restrictions, CDMA might as well stand for Can’t Do Much of Anything without your carrier’s permission.

Why choose GSM vs CDMA?

Considering where technology is headed, when it comes to GSM vs CDMA, GSM is the clear choice when choosing a wireless carrier. If you’re using a Big Wireless carrier, you’re already paying more than enough for phone service… you shouldn’t have to spend valuable time asking your carrier’s permission whenever you want to change phones, too.

Not only does it make switching phones extra simple, but switching SIM cards is just as easy. Travelers can especially appreciate the premium service and convenience that comes with GSM worldwide. If you find yourself outside of your usual network coverage area (AKA roaming), it might be in your best interest to get a new number with a local carrier while traveling. GSM gives you the freedom to bring your unlocked phone with you, pick up a local SIM card wherever you land, and just pop it in your phone so you can enjoy your trip.

Switching to Mint

If you’re ready to get yourself a SIM card from Mint Mobile, start by checking out the GSM phone plans we offer. And because we’re GSM, you can BYOP (bring your own phone), just make sure it’s compatible with our network first. Of course, if you don’t have a GSM phone yet, we can help with that too.

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