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The Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) is a specific standard that was created to describe protocols for 2G cellular networks used by cell phones. An unlocked GSM phone means that the phone can access any carrier service that uses GSM technology. Understanding the difference between a locked and an unlocked phone is tricky and hopefully, this article will clear up any misconceptions.
What is a GSM unlocked cell phone or smart phone?
The ‘unlocked’ concept can be applied to GSM capable phones. The Global System for Mobile (GSM) is a global mobile standard that links your phone number and cell phone service to a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card and not to the phone itself. A GSM unlocked cell phone or smartphone is a phone that will work with any cell phone provider as long as the cell phone company supports GSM technology. This means that you can switch different SIM cards in your phone and your phone will work with any GSM carrier service.
Factory GSM unlocked phone
A factory GSM unlocked phone is a phone that has left the manufacturer without a GSM carrier service contract. In other words a factory GSM unlocked phone means is usable for all GSM networks. The phone will never be locked to a mobile network and can be used with any GSM provider like AT&T and T-Mobile.
A factory GSM unlocked phone is better than a phone that has been unlocked from a specific carrier because if you ever need to reset your phone, you don’t need the SIM card from the original carrier to complete the setup process. This is important if you plan on traveling because if your phone needs to be reset and you don’t have the original SIM to reset the phone, then your phone will not work.
GSM unlocked iPhone
There are two different models that an iPhone uses and these are GSM and CDMA. A GSM unlocked iPhone means that the phone will only be able to support mobile providers that use GSM technology. Examples of mobile providers in the United States that use GSM technology are Cricket, AT&T, and T-Mobile. It is important to note that a GSM unlocked iPhone would not support CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon because they do not run on GSM technology. A GSM unlocked iPhone is not under any type of contract i.e. an AT&T carrier contract. This means that your iPhone can work as a global GSM unlocked phone and can use any global network that uses GSM technology.
GSM unlocked Android
Android has a different operating system to an iPhone but is still compatible with GSM technology. Globally, most people use the GSM cellular bandwidth coupled with Android technology making this the most affordable GSM unlocked phone. A GSM unlocked android phone like the Google Android Nexus is a GSM capable phone that can be used with any GSM provider.
GSM unlocked vs. fully unlocked cell phone
A GSM unlocked phone will only work with GSM providers like AT&T and T-Mobile because they use the same frequency. Whereas a fully unlocked phone will work with both GSM and CDMA technology. This means a fully unlocked phone can use GSM AT&T as well as CDMA Sprint services seamlessly. Nexus 5X is a fully unlocked cell phone straight from the manufacturer and comes with both GSM and CDMA capabilities. It works with all American providers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Metro PCS, and more.
Carrier services practice monopolistic tendencies which increase the overall cost of having phones that are bound to them. Having an unlocked GSM or a fully unlocked phone gives you more variety and is more affordable in the long run because you can switch between carrier services based on your needs.
In the 1980s European countries decided to consolidate bandwidth for telecommunications purposes and this is how GSM networking spread. They did this because GSM came from one organization and was easily regulated. The Global System for Mobiles network is an older radio standard that was used for the second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) cell phones. The GSM network is the preferred global network and is used more outside of developed nations. This is because many developing nations do not have the infrastructure to accommodate Long Term Evolution (LTE) fourth-generation (4G) and fifth-generation (5G) networking standards.
A GSM carrier is a cell phone company that uses GSM technology. These companies use GSM wireless standards to provide 2G and 3G cellular services to mobile phones. GSM providers can be found all over the world especially in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Canada. Through their carriers, all GSM devices are created so that services can also be rendered through a SIM card.
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is also an older radio standard used for 2G and 3G cell phones. However, it is on a different bandwidth from GSM and are not compatible with each other because they exist on different radio channels. Therefore, if a phone uses a GSM channel the same phone cannot use a CDMA channel because it is on a different frequency. CDMA networking technology is owned by the chipmaker Qualcomm and its technology is predominantly used in the United States.
A CDMA carrier is a cell phone company that uses CDMA technology. Their wireless standards are not as widespread as the GSM wireless standard which means they are not as popular worldwide. CDMA devices do not have SIM cards and they do not allow their devices to be used by other CDMA service providers. An example of this is the CDMA network Sprint does not allow another CDMA network like Verizon to use their device unless special conditions are met.
Advantages and disadvantages of GSM carriers
The most important advantage of GSM providers is that they offer extensive coverage and GSM carriers are located worldwide. GSM carriers offer services like harmonized spectrum which means that even though different countries operate on different frequencies, users can still transfer effortlessly between networks and keep the same phone number. Another advantage of GSM carriers is that because they are so vast, they offer more phone varieties. The newest phones are normally offered to GSM users because they have a large market share. This means customers have more flexibility in picking phones specific to their needs and are not limited to phones created in their own countries.
The biggest disadvantage of GSM carriers is that they are outdated and suffer from bandwidth lag. GSM carriers have many users and this means that transmission can be interfered with causing lag. This is why CDMA technology was more popular in the United States because it was faster and had more reliable bandwidth in the early 2000s. Another serious disadvantage is that GSM can interfere with life-saving electronics like pacemakers which can have major consequences and can even lead to death.
List of GSM carriers in the U.S.
Major GSM carriers in the United States for both androids and iPhones are AT&T and T-Mobile as well as their MVNO wireless providers. MVNOs are cell phone providers that do not have their own network and use AT&T networks to provide cellular services. An example of an MVNO provider is Cricket Mobile.
What is a GSM unlocked 4G LTE cell phone?
Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a GSM standard used by all carrier network providers. So a GSM unlocked 4G LTE cell phone will be able to use GSM (2G and 3G) services as well as 4G LTE services. The frequencies that this phone would be able to access are 850 and 1900 MHz for 2G and 3G, and bands 2,4 and 17 for LTE. The GSM unlocked 4G LTE cell phone can be used anywhere in the world and can use all frequencies except CDMA.
What is CDMA?
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is an older radio standard used for 2G and 3G cell phones. CDMA is being phased out for faster, more accessible standards like LTE networks.
What is GSM unlocked?
GSM unlocked means that the phone can use any SIM from phone carriers that use GSM technology. An example of this is that the phone can use AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards because they both operate on GSM technology.
What is the difference between GSM and CDMA?
The difference between GSM and CDMA is that GSM carriers require a SIM to offer services while CDMA carriers do not. Another major difference is that GSM and CDMA are not on the same bandwidth and are not compatible because they are not on the same radio frequency.
Is GSM or CDMA better for iPhone users?
It depends on what service provider you use and what you are willing to budget for. GSM is better for some people because their services are found all over the world and their MVNO services tend to be cheaper. However, if you would like a plan and do not travel often then CDMA carriers might just work for you.
Can you unlock a CDMA phone to GSM?
If your CDMA phone has a SIM slot then you can unlock your CDMA phone to GSM. Many phones these days are compatible with both networks so you can use GSM SIM in a mobile device that incorporates both CDMA and GSM technology.
What are the best GSM carriers in the US?
The best GSM carriers in the United States are AT&T and T-Mobile. These carriers can be found in all 50 states so they are the fastest and they have the most coverage in the US.