What are CDMA Smartphones?

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  • Originally Written By: Marco Perez
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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CDMA smartphones are a type of mobile phone that relies on code division multiple access (CDMA) technology to operate and to execute its most basic functions. The technology usually originates or at least focuses on a radio tower, and the signal it emits is what allows phones on a specific network to connect and receive service for voice calls and data exchanges. Most modern smartphones use either CDMA or a competing technology known as the global system for mobile communications (GSM). The choice is made at the carrier level, and phones that have been programmed for one or the other platform can’t usually switch carriers. Most of the world’s smartphones are GSM-formatted. CDMA technology is almost exclusively American, and is used most predominantly by a handful of U.S. providers.

Technology Basics

The mechanics of cell phone technology are often somewhat complicated, and usually involve a number of different components. Access mechanisms are one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, at least from a connectivity standpoint. Their role is to help ensure that the physical phone is able to access a data and voice network that will carry its calls and transmit information sent and received.


One of the most unique things about CDMA technologies is that a base station mobile phone tower has no cut-off point for number of users until the station decides call quality might suffer. CDMA uses what is known as "spread spectrum" technology. Put simply, a radio signal is divided, coded, and scattered over a wider range of frequencies than the original signal. The divided signal is then recombined once it reaches the receiver, based on the unique code assigned to each user's signal. Among some of the benefits, this allows for greater system capacity and increased security and privacy.


CDMA smartphones and the accompanying technology on which they rely have been in commercial use since 1995. The first CDMA technology, known as Interim Standard 95 (IS-95) was developed by Qualcomm® under the brand name cdmaOne®. It is considered a 2G, or second-generation, wireless telephone technology. The Qualcomm® standard IS-2000, otherwise known as CDMA2000®, is the 3G or third-generation technology used by most CDMA smartphones, though there are several variants of CDMA2000® technology in use as well. 4G and LTE networks similarly tend to have their own technologies, too.

Common Features

It’s hard to tell just by looking at a phone whether it is using CDMA technology, and this connectivity platform can be used by pretty much any modern phone. Most have features such as multimedia messaging, video, high-speed Internet access and digital cameras. E-mail capability, QWERTY keyboard functionality, mobile television, and video conferencing are some other features that are available. This ability to offer more computing and connectivity functions than a basic feature phone is what distinguishes smartphones from basic mobile phones. The decision of how physical access is assigned is usually made at the carrier level and doesn’t impact the phone’s usefulness.

They are effectively computers — albeit smaller than laptop or desktop computers — that run operating system software that allow for the development of applications, or “apps.” These are software programs that can be downloaded from the Internet and used on the smartphone. There are literally tens of thousands of smartphone apps available that perform numerous varied tasks, including banking, weather forecasting, social networking and gaming.

Alternative Platforms

The primary alternative to CDMA technology is the GSM platform, and indeed most of the world’s smartphones run on GSM. There are other notable differences. One is that, with CDMA smartphones, the phone number is normally associated with the mobile telephone unit itself. With GSM technology, the phone number is associated with a removable subscriber identification module (SIM) card that must be used. The GSM platform is also significantly more open, and phone owners are usually able to reroute their devices to many different carriers. CDMA phones, on the other hand, are more frequently “locked” and can only be operated by the provider that sold them and initiated them initially.


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Post 2

Will any cdma smartphone work on Assurance wireless?

Post 1

Will a cdma phone bought in the US work in India?

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