GSM and CDMA: Alphabet Soup made easy

These days, it is almost impossible for most people to go a day without their cell phone going off at least once. In fact, we could say that we have become so attached to our devices, we almost feel naked without them. We do everything on our phones nowadays; from checking the news, to texting, to making important conference calls, most of us could not imagine our lives without these 'lifesaving' gadgets.

While it is possible to do all these amazing things on what is essentially a mini-computer, cell phones and carriers still rank amongst the top 5 complaints that consumers have. Whether it is dropped calls or dead zones, no one seems completely happy with their phone service. But why is that?

A Little History

In the United States, there are currently 4 major cell phone carriers that provide nationwode service; AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Of the 4, AT&T and T-Mobile share a common technology called GSM, which stands for Global System for Mobile Communication. The keyword there is Global, GSM is the technology most widely used around the world, and thus benefical for international travellers. 

CDMA, which stands for Code Division Multiple Access, is the common technology shared by Verizon Wireless and Sprint. CDMA is more widely developed in the United States, and therefore, provides better coverage here than internationally.

How To Pick Between Technologies

Most people do not care if their phone operates on GSM or CDMA, as long as it works. However, each technology has its own advantages and disadvantages, mainly in coverage. GSM works well in the United States, but its true strength comes from beyond our borders. With roaming agreements in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, GSM is the better choice for the global trekker or business person.

CDMA on the other hand, has very strong coverage in the United States, but a comparatively weaker in the global arena, with only a handful of places worldwide that the phone can be used. However, CDMA covers rural America vastly better than its GSM counterpart, particularly in the Western US.

How To Pick the Best Carrier and Plan to Suit Your Needs

Carriers everyday fling advertisments about how they have the fastest, largest, strongest network that will allow you to talk and text and surf the web virutally anywhere you please. How do you get past all the smoke and mirrors to find out which carrier is truly best suited for your own needs?

-Check Coverage Maps online. All of the big carriers have detailed coverage maps of where they provide service. Some may even have maps that show an estimate of how strong the signal is in a given area. Check the places you live, work, and play. However, be aware that no matter how complete a coverage map looks, all carriers will have dead spots within covered areas

-Check your needs. Do you text more than you talk? Surf the Web a lot? Get a plan based on how much you use, not what the salesperson tries to put you into. It is sometimes better to overestimate your usage at first, then adjust accordingly. Carriers cannot make you sign a new contract when you change your plan.

-Ask family and friends. Which carrier do they use? are they happy with them? Ask about the coverage, customer service, and price. A real world experience will always beat what a coverage map or salesperson tries to sell you.

-Check for an employee discount. Usually, if you work for a big corporation, carriers will give you a certain percentage off your bill every month, and may even throw in discounts on accessories. Use these to your advantage to shave big bucks off your bill.

I hope I have provided some insight into how to pick the right cell phone plan, and made the daunting task a bit easier. Now go out there, text, talk, and surf to your heart's content. May you never have to ask if the other person can, 'hear you now?'