Exploring Major Mobile Networks (And How They Differ)

The changing mobile tech industry is hard to keep up with, but you got this with Total Wireless.

GSM, 4G LTE, CDMA – there’s a good chance that you’ve seen at least one or two of these terms before. However, you may not know they impact your phone or the mobile industry as a whole. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help explain some of the mobile industry’s more complex network terms.

Quick answer: Mobile networks seem complex, so we’ve explained them in simple terms. CDMA and GSM refer to how carriers provide service, while 3G, 4G, and 5G identify the generation of the network – and, therefore, how fast it works.

Friends outside looking at content on a smartphone

Network generations

5G networks are expected to arrive in the near future.

They’re often mentioned prominently on packaging and in advertisements, so we’ll start by discussing network generations. Network generations are identified by numbers followed by the letter “G” – think 3G, 4G, and 5G. But what exactly does generation mean?

A network’s generation outlines its technology and performance capabilities. 3G networks were the standard many years ago, but as technology evolved, 4G networks stepped into the mainstream. This resulted in major performance improvements, enabling mobile users around the world to watch videos, stream music, and much more without a hassle. 5G networks are expected to arrive in the near future. They're predicted to provide even greater speeds and more diverse capabilities than ever before.

You might also notice the term 4G LTE. LTE simply stands for long-term evolution, and it refers to the mobile industry’s efforts to create networks that deliver “true 4G speeds” as defined by international 4G standards.


Two other common network-related terms are CDMA and GSM. These terms describe the actual technology that a carrier’s network uses to provide its customers with mobile service. It’s important to remember that both types of networks deliver modern, dependable performance, but they do have their differences.

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications. This system involves storing a customer’s data on a SIM card that can be removed and placed into any GSM-compatible device. Oftentimes, this will require customers to purchase a separate SIM before they can activate their device.

CDMA uses a different approach. CDMA carriers, which include two major U.S. carriers and Total Wireless, identify their subscribers through white lists, eliminating the need for a SIM entirely. All you’ll need for most CDMA carriers is a carrier-compatible phone, and you’ll be set to take advantage of the carrier’s many benefits, making the mobile experience that much simpler.

You got this

Thanks to the flexibility of CDMA networks, there's no reason to deal with restrictive, expensive contracts any longer. Make the move today – keep the device you love, and move on to something better with a no-worry 30-day plan from Total Wireless. When you do, you'll enjoy easy access to the nation's largest, most dependable 4G LTE network and a selection of quality phones to ensure you can always stay connected.