CDMA vs. GSM

It’s Sprint and Verizon on one side, AT&T and T-Mobile on the other

The battle between CDMA and GSM wireless services is far from over as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint push toward 4G wireless amid.

The real problem with the cellular industry is all the blasted acronyms. Basically, you’ve got different ways of making a cellular voice or data call, with vendors lined up behind both. AT&T, and its Cingular acquisition, and T-Mobile are the major GSM carriers in the United States; with Sprint (which merged with Nextel), Verizon and Virgin Mobile as the chief CDMA carriers. Into the new millennium, their chief competitive tactic has been cutting prices.

But that’s changing. Both groups are speeding up their deployment of much faster 3G versions of their cellular radios. For CDMA, that’s various “revisions” of EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), currently Revision A; for GSM, it’s UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Standard) coupled with HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).

The peak speeds claimed by the carriers show considerable overlap. The point is they’re way faster, and people want faster.

“From the evidence we’ve seen and the research we’ve done, there is absolutely a pent-up demand for 3G from enterprises,” says Mike O’Malley, director of external marketing for Tellabs, speaking to Network World earlier this year. The company sells mobile wireless equipment to carriers. “That’s because it offers Wi-Fi speeds or better, but unlimited roaming. People don’t want to walk from Starbucks to Starbucks for connectivity.”

But the higher speeds also make possible brand new digital data services, both information and entertainment, based on a wide range of media types including pictures, music, TV and streaming video. These media and the spread of wireless push e-mail is giving cell phone users a taste for what this new “always-on” data network can do.

This is one argument that’s far from over.

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