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What's Different About GSM and CDMA BlackBerry Phones?

written by: LauraMS•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 7/5/2011

We often hear BlackBerry devices described as being either GSM or CDMA phones, but what exactly do these terms mean? Read on for a brief definition of both and discover why they are important things to note when you are in the market for a new BlackBerry phone.

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    Does The Whole GSM vs. CDMA Comparison Confuse You?

    As a BlackBerry user, you’ll often find that different BlackBerry models are introduced to different cellular carriers and BlackBerry enthusiasts often speak of selecting their preferred model (and carrier) based on whether or not the phone offers GSM or a CDMA technology. If you’re new to the BlackBerry mobile platform, this may seem a bit confusing to you. You may think that a BlackBerry is still a BlackBerry regardless of which carrier it’s on, but once you understand the basic differences between GSM and CDMA technology, you may better understand what the fuss is in comparing the two.

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    A Brief Explanation of GSM Technology

    GSM stands for Global System Mobile. When this technology is available on a BlackBerry mobile phone, a removable SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module card) is installed inside the phone (normally beneath the phone’s battery). With GSM technology, SIM cards can be removed, switched to another GSM phone and another one can even be used it its place. For example, if you’re traveling to another country where GSM technology is available, instead of incurring roaming charges, many BlackBerry users will, instead, buy a prepaid SIM card for use in the country that they’re visiting and make all of their local calls on that card. By the same token, GSM technology is also used in several other countries which also makes GSM more desirable to some as it gives them a wider service area (even if they are roaming in these other areas).

    Also, because of the removable SIM card, GSM phones are easier to upgrade. All it takes is buying the GSM enabled phone of your choice and inserting the new SIM card. This process doesn’t involve contacting the carrier to make a switch.

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    A Brief Explanation of CDMA Technology

    CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access and is more desirable to some BlackBerry users as it is also the technology most widely used with 3G technologies. 3G stands for 3rd Generation and currently offers the fastest data speeds outside of wi-fi use. In fact, some will argue that 3G is sometimes even faster than wi-fi speeds for downloading, surfing the web and other data transfers. While some countries outside of the United States offer CDMA technology, it is not as widely used outside of the U.S., as is GSM technology. As you can see, there are major differences between GSM and CDMA. While many BlackBerry enthusiasts will argue which is best and which is fastest, knowing the difference between the two can help you tremendously when deciding which technology to invest in.