CDMA vs GSM: What's the Difference?

We explain the difference between GSM and CDMA

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Ever noticed how mysterious cell phone terminology is? We have!

Understanding the language of cell phone carriers can be downright confusing. It's necessary though, for figuring out things like whether your device uses a SIM card and which smartphones you can bring to another carrier.

Two of the most important acronyms to understand are GSM and CDMA. Keep reading to learn the difference between GSM and CDMA and why it matters.

You'll also find out the best low-cost carriers for each type of network and how to save 50% on your cell phone plan and your smartphone!

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What's the Difference Between GSM and CDMA?

GSM and CDMA are the two wireless protocols used to facilitate cell phone service.

What is GSM?

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile (communications), a radio system used in mobile devices. This is the most widely-used standard worldwide.

The appeal in GSM rests in its capability. Since it's a global network, its roaming capabilities are better. This means that GSM phones are the more flexible choice for international travel.

What is CDMA?

CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access. CDMA represents multiplexing between numerous signals for optimal bandwidth availability.

Differences Between CDMA and GSM

There are two major differences between the two protocols.

How calls are processed:

GSM networks use a time division system. When you make a call, the network assigns a time slot and channel to your data.

Conversely, CDMA networks use code division (hence the term Code Division Multiple Access). With this method, data from a call comes with a specific key and transmits together, making this method more versatile.

How information is stored:

GSM phones use SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards. Your SIM card represents your digital identity, holding all of your wireless account information.

The appeal of SIM cards is you can transition easily between GSM phones, especially if you choose a bring your own phone plan.

CDMA phones contain your information within the phone's physical memory. Some CDMA phones have SIM cards, however, it serves a totally different purpose - or two purposes, as it were:

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Save Money on the Best GSM and CDMA Networks

Regardless of which kind of phone you have, you want great service at an affordable price. With the average cell phone bill reaching new heights, you're always looking for the best deal.

Luckily for you, we've got the answer to how to find cheap cell phone plans on any of the major GSM and CDMA networks.

Benefits of MVNOs

What is an MVNO? Mobile Virtual Network Operators are smaller wireless carriers that operate on the same networks as the big four - AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. MVNOs rent space on the major networks and sell it to you at a better price.

Why should you go with an MVNO?

  • They're cheaper by 50% or more.
  • You get reliable nationwide service on the big four networks.
  • There are no contracts.
  • You can customize your plan so you pay only for what you actually need.
  • It's easy to bring your own phone and keep your number.
  • MVNOs get high customer service ratings.
  • It's easy to switch - signup is usually done online.

The Best GSM Carriers

AT&T and T-Mobile are the main GSM networks in the US. Let's look at some GSM MVNOs that will save you hundreds of dollars per year over the big guys.

TextNow (T-Mobile)

TextNow is unique because it uses a technology that allows service to switch seamlessly between the cellular network and Wi-Fi as a way to save data.

Other benefits include:

  • Free ad-supported Wi-Fi only plan
  • Affordable unlimited plan
  • Unlimited calling and texting with all plans

US Mobile (T-Mobile)

Flexibility is what gives US Mobile plans its edge. There are hundreds of possible combinations, allowing you to design a custom plan that truly fits your needs.

Other US Mobile benefits include:

  • Unlimited plans available
  • 24/7 customer service
  • International service coming soon

Red Pocket Mobile (AT&T)

Red Pocket plans are a great alternative for average users, saving you at least 50% over comparable AT&T plans without giving up the AT&T wireless network.

Other Red Pocket features include;

  • Free calling to 70+ countries
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering permitted
  • Easy to bring your own GSM phone

Cricket Wireless (AT&T)

You may have heard of Cricket Wireless since it's one of the oldest prepaid cell phone providers and also one of the few MVNOs with brick-and-mortar retail stores. The carrier was purchased by AT&T in 2013.

Great things about Cricket:

  • Unlimited talk and text with all plans
  • Unlimited plan with two speed choices
  • Discount on family plan (Group Save)

The Best CDMA Carriers

The best CDMA carriers have plenty to offer as well. With CDMA you get coverage on the Sprint or Verizon Wireless networks.

TextNow (Sprint)

In addition to running on the T-Mobile network, TextNow plans are also available on the Sprint network.

Tello (Sprint)

Tello plans offer fantastic flexibility and pricing for light to medium data users.

Other features:

  • Unlimited talk and text messages with all plans
  • Data buckets from none to 10 GB
  • International pay-as-you-go calling

Twigby (Verizon)

With service on one of America's most reliable networks, Twigby plans are a super affordable alternative for Verizon Wireless fans.

  • Free global texting with all plans
  • 25% introductory discount for the first 6 months
  • Mobile hotspot use permitted

US Mobile (Verizon)

US Mobile also provides Verizon coverage. US Mobile unlimited data plans, in particular, run on this reliable network, with three different speed options available.

How to Get the Best Deal on the Right Phone

There are two things you need to know about phone compatibility:

  1. You'll get the best service with a GSM phone on a GSM network and a CDMA phone on a CDMA network.
  2. Make sure you buy an unlocked phone or that you know how to unlock your phone for use on another carrier.

With that knowledge in hand, now you can save 50% or more on your smartphone when you buy used or refurbished.

Buying a used phone is a great choice for multiple reasons:

  • Price - get your favorite devices for less than half the cost of retail.
  • Freedom - take your phone to any carrier you wish.
  • Protection - you can buy cell phone insurance on used and refurbished devices just like with a new one.
  • Simple repair - cell phone repair shops are everywhere these days, making it cheap and easy to get your device fixed.

We make it easy and fast to compare the best cell phone deals on new and refurbished smartphones available from reputable sellers across the web.


The bottom line is that saving on either GSM or CDMA phones and service is simple:

Want to see just how much you can save over your current carrier? Use our cell phone savings calculator to find out in seconds!

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QIs Verizon GSM or CDMA?


Verizon uses CDMA.



AT&T uses GSM.

QIs T-Mobile GSM or CDMA?


T-Mobile uses GSM.

QIs Sprint GSM or CDMA?


Sprint uses CDMA.

QWhat does it mean when a phone is GSM?


Simply, it means the phone uses the GSM network. Providers like T-Mobile and AT&T use this network. Moreover, with GSM networks, you receive greater flexibility with your device. With GSM phones, you receive a SIM card that represents your digital identity. To transfer service from one GSM phone to the next, simply take out the SIM card and insert it into the new phone.

QWhat is the CDMA network?


A CDMA network is one of three major networks found worldwide carriers use. In the United States, carriers like Sprint and Verizon use the CDMA network. This network transmits data through code division, making it the most powerful and flexible offering available. The results of this include less signal interruption during a call.

There are limitations to using this network, though. For one, because advancements haven't been as pronounced as GSM has been, the CDMA network is slower than GSM. Furthermore, CDMA uses white lists to verify their customers' information. This means if you want to switch service providers or use your CDMA model phone on a specific network, you must receive permission from your carrier before doing so.

QWhat is a GSM phone carrier?


It is a carrier that uses the GSM network. Examples of this include companies like AT&T and T-Mobile. Since GSM service is the most commonly used network worldwide, it translates into better reliability in remote areas. Along with network capabilities, a phone carrier's plan offerings are important to consider.

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