GSM, CDMA, HSPA and LTE: Understanding mobile network technologies

Virtually all smartphones possess either GSM, CDMA, HSPA or LTE standards. Most smartphones even combine about three or all of these mobile standards listed above. Edging away from smartphones, feature phones can’t be left out of the equation. As long as they communicate data, they make use of at least one of these network technologies. At some point in time, I’m sure you’ve made use of feature phones (bar the millennials though).

But it can be a tad difficult to understand what these terms mean. So, we’ve concocted this article to help you comprehend the network technologies you have running on your smartphones and feature phones.

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GSM, an acronym for Global System for Mobile Communications, is a mobile network standard with worldwide support for mobile phones. This standard was crafted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to replace the first-generation (1G) analogue telecommunications standard.

GSM serves as the first second-generation (2G) telecommunications standard with support for digital devices, unlike the 1G cellular networks. It was first introduced in Finland, Europe in the year 1991. Currently, the GSM standard is owned by the GSM Association, and it’s used worldwide except in Japan and South Korea.

Initially, GSM phones focused on the transmission of voice data, but with time, GPRS (in 2000) and EDGE (in 2003) came into the picture to expand its capabilities to packet data transport, bringing about internet access.

The 2G bands used by GSM include 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz. The bands used mostly in countries are the 850MHz and 1800MHz bands.

CDMA (Code-division Multiple Access)

This type of network standard opens the pathway for multiple radio technologies to communicate data over it without interference. Its style of operation is known as Multiple Access Method. The interference is avoided due to the implementation of a spread spectrum technology that assigns a code to each transmitter.

Ideally, CDMA comprises CDMAOne, CDMA2000 and W-CDMA. The CDMAOne is also referred to as IS95 which is a second-generation network standard. CDMA2000 and W-CDMA (Wideband CDMA) are both based on the third-generation (3G) technologies.

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Bear in mind that 3G networks were targeted at improving communication over voice and packet data. It’s with the 3G standards that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), cellular calls, text & MMS services, high data speeds & streaming became improved.

Even video calls became a thing thanks to 3G’s broad bandwidth. Smartphones with 3G networks such as CDMA2000 and W-CDMA perform better than 2G standards regarding internet access & voice calls.

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access)

Importantly, HSPA is composed of HSDPA and HSUPA. HSDPA represents High Speed Downlink Packet Access while HSUPA stands for High Speed Uplink Packet Access.

Although the HSPA uses 3G standards, it delivers higher data transmissions when compared to the CDMA technologies. HSPA was primed at improving 3G standards on CDMA communication protocol.

Between HSDPA and HSUPA, the former is often mentioned in the mobile world because downloads speeds are viewed with more importance. The HSDPA (also known as 3.5G or Turbo 3G) can download at the rate of 5.76Mbps – 7.2Mbps. Its major 3G bands include 850MHz, 900MHz, 1700MHz, 1900MHz & 2100MHz.

LTE (Long-Term Evolution)

LTE is popularly called “4G LTE”. According to the standards that were set for true 4G technologies, the LTE network doesn’t meet up. But to cut out confusions arising from different models like 3.9G, it was issued that LTE gets marketed as 4G LTE.

Currently, it is the standard with the highest internet speed across the globe. It boasts of download speeds of about 150Mbps – 300Mbps.

Compared to other networks, LTE places lots of demand on battery capacity. Hence, if you want to use the LTE standard elaborately, you have to be prepared to witness higher battery consumption.

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To know the 4G bands your phone LTE supports, you can check them in the phone package or websites with the phone’s specifications like Dignited. The knowledge of the phone’s 4G bands will help you know the compatible ones with network operators in your country.


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