CDMA vs GSM: How Do They Differ?

When you were shopping around for your new smartphone, there’s a good chance that you came across the acronyms GSM or CDMA. You may have read them quite a few times but probably never really knew what they stood for or how those acronyms affected you when you wanted to choose your dream smartphone.

CDMA stands for “Code Division Multiple Access,” and GSM stands for “Global System for Mobiles.” With GSM networks, your information is on a removable SIM card, and if you want to use another GSM phone, all you have to do is swap the card. Things are not as easy when you are using CDMA.

Carriers that use CDMA rely on the network-based white list to detect their subscribers. With this network, you are not going to have the freedom you would have if you were on GSM because you can only use another phone with your carrier’s approval.


If you are on Verizon or Sprint, you are using a CDMA network, and that means if you wanted to use a phone from AT&T you wouldn’t be able to because of incompatibility issues. Your carrier could accept it; they just choose not to.

Does your Sprint or Verizon phone have a SIM card? Before you get happy thinking you can use a GSM card on your phone, there is something you should know. Some Verizon and Sprint phones have a SIM card even though they use CDMA networks because they are needed for the 4G LTE network. LTE standards also use SIM cards.

The problem with 3G CDMA networks is that they can’t transmit data and make voice calls at the same time, but all 3G GSM can do this. It’s because it’s needed as part of the specs. You may be wondering why carriers decided to go with with CDMA. The reason is a simple one. Back in the 90s when companies were switching from analog to digital, CDMA was the best technology around, and GSM was lagging behind. In time, GSM caught up, but the carriers had already made their choice.


So, which one is better? They are both good since call quality has to do with the network itself instead of the method used. You do have more freedom with GSM since you can use a GSM phone in another country as long as you can count on a compatible GSM network; you can buy third-party phones made for GSM networks, and you can jailbreak and transfer GSM phones to another network.

Before you go running out to buy a GSM phone, you should also know that CDMA phones have a bigger capacity for communication than GSM phones. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is slowly catching up to these two networks. You can say that LTE is an evolved version of GSM and offers its users improved voice quality and is the base for 4G high-speed data. If you are looking for technology that has the advantage, then LTE is what you are looking for. Not sure what carrier you should go for? I would recommend just going with the one that best satisfies your budget, tastes, and needs.

As you can see, these two networks impact on the kind of phone we want to get, but hopefully the phone we want is on the network we like the best. What network is your device on? Let us know in the comments.

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