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GSM vs. CDMA: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications, a standard for mobile networks, while CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access, a channel access method for data and voice communication.
GSM vs. CDMA

Key Differences

GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is a standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to describe the protocols for second-generation (2G) digital cellular networks used by mobile devices. CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is a channel access method used by various radio communication technologies, developed as an alternative to GSM.
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GSM networks operate by assigning a specific time slot and frequency to each user, allowing multiple users on the same channel. CDMA spreads the data over a single channel using unique codes to differentiate subscribers.
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GSM devices use a SIM card for user data and network authentication, facilitating easy device switching. CDMA phones are directly linked to the network with user data programmed internally, making switching devices more complex.
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Comparison Chart

Access Method

Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA).
Code Division Multiple Access.
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SIM Card Usage

Requires a SIM card.
Does not typically use a SIM card.
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International Roaming

More widely supported due to international GSM networks.
Limited due to fewer global CDMA networks.
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Network Adoption

Widely adopted worldwide.
Mainly used in the United States and parts of Asia.
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Device Switching

Easy to switch devices by moving the SIM card.
Device switching often requires network assistance.
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GSM and CDMA Definitions

GSM

GSM allows for easy international roaming and compatibility across various networks.
GSM's international roaming capabilities made it the preferred choice for travelers.
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CDMA

CDMA technology encrypts each call using coded signals over the full available spectrum.
CDMA's encryption method made it a secure choice for mobile communication.
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GSM

GSM is a mobile network standard widely used internationally.
Her GSM phone worked seamlessly when she traveled to Europe.
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CDMA

CDMA phones do not require a SIM card, connecting to the network directly.
When she bought her CDMA phone, it had to be activated by the carrier.
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GSM

GSM devices can be easily unlocked and used with different network providers.
After unlocking her GSM smartphone, she switched to a different carrier.
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CDMA

CDMA is known for its capacity to support more users per MHz of bandwidth.
CDMA efficiently managed network traffic during peak hours.
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GSM

GSM technology supports voice calls, SMS, and data services.
GSM networks provided the backbone for the massive growth of mobile communication.
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CDMA

CDMA is a channel access method that allows multiple users on the same frequency.
His CDMA phone provided excellent call quality even in rural areas.
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GSM

GSM networks utilize a SIM card to identify and authenticate subscribers.
He transferred his GSM SIM card to a new phone to keep his contacts and number.
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CDMA

CDMA was primarily used by carriers in the United States before the shift to LTE.
CDMA carriers in the U.S. have mostly transitioned to newer LTE technology.
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GSM

An international telecommunications standard for the transmission of voice and data between cellphones and other mobile devices.
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GSM

Init of grams per square metre(unit for measuring the weight of paper)
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Do I need a new phone to switch from a GSM to CDMA carrier?

Typically yes, unless the phone supports both technologies.
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What is GSM?

GSM is a standard for mobile telephony systems worldwide.
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Can GSM phones work on CDMA networks?

No, they are based on different technologies and are not cross-compatible.
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Can CDMA phones be used internationally?

It's possible, but international roaming with CDMA is less supported than with GSM.
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What is CDMA?

CDMA is a type of channel access method used in telecommunications.
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Are GSM phones locked to a carrier?

They can be, but GSM phones can be easily unlocked for use with other carriers.
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How do GSM and CDMA differ in terms of technology?

GSM uses time division for multiple access, CDMA uses code division.
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What kind of SIM card does a CDMA phone use?

Older CDMA phones do not use SIM cards, but modern CDMA phones may use them for LTE support.
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Will my GSM phone work everywhere in the world?

Most places, yes, as GSM is the international standard.
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Do newer smartphones use GSM or CDMA?

New smartphones are moving towards GSM and LTE standards.
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Is CDMA more secure than GSM?

Both have security protocols, but CDMA's spread-spectrum technology offers inherent security features.
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Is CDMA still in use?

CDMA is being phased out in favor of GSM and LTE technologies.
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GSM or CDMA?

Neither is inherently better; each has advantages depending on use and location.
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Is LTE replacing GSM and CDMA?

Yes, LTE is becoming the standard for cellular networks, replacing both GSM and CDMA.
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How do I know if my phone is GSM or CDMA?

Check the phone's specifications or with your carrier.
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What happens to my CDMA service as networks upgrade?

Carriers are transitioning to LTE and 5G, which may require a new device.
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Can I use a GSM phone on a CDMA network with LTE?

If the phone supports LTE, it may work on the LTE portion of a CDMA network.
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Do I need to choose between GSM and CDMA when buying a new phone?

Most modern phones support multiple network technologies including GSM and CDMA.
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Will GSM and CDMA affect my data speeds?

Data speeds are more influenced by LTE and network conditions than by GSM or CDMA technologies.
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Can I switch carriers with a CDMA phone?

Switching carriers with CDMA phones is more complex and often requires carrier assistance.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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