GSM vs CDMA vs LTE: Understanding Unlocked Phones

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Ah, cell phones. We all use them and rely on them to a degree that some experts argue verges on addiction. However, few of us understand how they actually work. For those who purchase their phones unlocked, decoding all the abbreviations associated with the devices is crucial to find a working phone.

GSM, CDMA, and LTE are all common abbreviations you see when searching for unlocked devices. What’s the difference between GSM vs CDMA vs LTE? Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding GSM and CDMA

GSM and CDMA are the two most common abbreviations you’ll come across when searching for an unlocked phone online. The difference between an unlocked GSM phone and an unlocked CDMA phone lies in the networks they’re able to access.

What Is GSM?

GSM is short for Global System for Mobile and is the type of cell phone network technology used by 80-90% of the world’s mobile users. GSM networks use a SIM card to store a subscriber’s phone book, texts, and call history. The GSM device uses the SIM card to access the mobile network and make outbound calls.

Most devices, whether GSM or CDMA, are locked to their original carriers since cell phone providers want to avoid customers swapping networks. However, if a device is GSM unlocked, it will run on any compatible network. Common GSM providers include T-Mobile and AT&T.

What Is CDMA?

CDMA is most often found in the United States and Russia. The abbreviation stands for Code Division Multiple Access, and it services a smaller group of people than GSM. However, CDMA subscribers gain access to a provider’s entire service band spectrum, allowing more users to stay connected at once.

While older CDMA devices did not use SIM cards to connect to their networks, most modern ones will so that they have LTE service. However, if you purchase a CDMA unlocked phone, be wary, as they can prove incompatible even with CDMA networks due to the customer’s data being hard-coded into the device to some extent.

Understanding LTE

LTE is an outlier in the comparison of GSM vs CDMA vs LTE. It describes a broadband wireless technique rather than a type of cell phone network. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is the principal driving force behind most cell phone data plans.

This type of network allowed for the existence of smartphones and expanded the amount of channels users could communicate with. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a phone without some form of LTE coverage as, aside from providing the signal required to browse the internet, it also supports voice calls and text messaging.

GSM vs CDMA vs LTE: The Differences Reviewed

Let’s recap what we know about the differences between GSM vs CDMA cs LTE. GSM and CDMA are both types of cell phone network technology while LTE refers to a technique that allows for cell data use. By understanding the differences between these terms, you can better navigate the host of unlocked phones you’ll find online.

If you found this guide helpful and would like to read more content like it, check out the Tech section of our blog for more!

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