CDMA vs GSM networks: what are the differences

CDMA-compatible phones can work on both 2G and 3G CDMA networks. However, it is a more geographically limited technology. There are companies in America that use CDMA, such as in the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Canada or Chile, as well as in Asian countries such as Japan or India.

In Europe, although a few years ago there were operators that did use this technology in countries in the east of the continent, it is somewhat residual. It is not widespread at all and, in fact, when CDMA was used, they ended up adapting to GSM.

But if there is a very important point when using CDMA in its beginnings, it was that mobile phones did not use a SIM card physical, but directly that terminal was adapted to work with a specific company. There was no such thing as changing the operator whenever we want easily and continuing to use the same phone. Over time, they did adapt to the use of SIM cards.

CDMA Essentials:

  • geographically limited
  • In the beginning they did not use a SIM card
  • Does not allow calls and data at the same time

What is GSM

When we talk about gsm We do it with the most used mobile technology in 2G and 3G networks. Its acronym, in Spanish, means Global System for Mobile. We can already get an idea that it is much more widespread in the different countries of the world, including Spain.

In fact, there are countries where both CDMA and GSM are used, but the latter has been gaining ground and is now much more widely used. It is the most popular and the one with the largest global market share, which makes mobile devices mostly compatible.

GMS mobile antenna - 3G

In this case, GSM works in mode of circuit switching. This means that it will allow calls to be made at the same time that we receive and send data through the Internet. It does not have a limitation in this case, which is a positive point.

A fundamental point for GSM technology is that it works through SIM cards. They serve to be able to connect to networks, but we can also store information in them, such as the list of contacts. This makes it very useful for traveling from one place to another, as well as being able to take out the card and put it in any other terminal.

GSM essentials:

  • Widely used globally
  • Allows you to make calls and receive data at the same time
  • Works via SIM cards
  • We can easily switch devices

How to know if my mobile uses CDMA or GSM

We must bear in mind that we can be before three different scenarios. One of them is to have a mobile that is only compatible with CMDA, a second in which it only works with GSM and, finally, that is compatible with both standards. It will depend on our terminal and, also, where it comes from.

We have some methods to know if a mobile is compatible with GSM, CDMA or both. If your mobile phone is old and does not have a SIM card slot, it means that it uses CDMA technology. It is a basic physical signal that identified when one technology or another was used.

But another more reliable option today is through the phone settings. It is possible to check it on both iOS and Android. Although it may depend on the exact model and version of the operating system, in the case of Android you have to go to Settings, enter About the phone and Status information.

Know if a mobile uses GSM or CDMA

There we will see a section that will tell us if our phone is compatible with GSM, CMDA or both. If “IMEI Information” appears, it means that it is compatible with GSM. If MEID or ESN is listed, it is CDMA compliant. If both options appear, it means that it can work with both technologies.

In the case of iOS, the process is similar. You have to go to Settings, General and click on About phone. There we will see the same as in the case of Android and we can check if the mobile works with GSM or CDMA.

A third option would be to simply search for the exact model we have and see the specifications. Depending on where we bought it, it may be compatible with one or the other option, in addition to even working with both to be able to obtain a network.


We can say that, although they are still used technologies, especially GSM, the truth is that both may be doomed to disappear in the coming years. The arrival of more recent technologies, such as 4G or 5G, will cause us to use these two less and less.

We have seen that there are some clear differences, such as the possibility or not of making calls and receiving data at the same time. However, it does not mean that one works better than the other for everyday use. We can say that GSM is much more widespread worldwide.

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