Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is the Difference Between GSM and CDMA?

One of the basic things that differentiates GSM (based on TDMA) and CDMA is the way the carve up bandwidth.
Each bit of radio spectrum used by a handset has to be shared with other people in the area. It is more or less the same as multiplexing for normal data land lines.
The major difference between GSM/TDMA and CDMA is in the way they divide up those signals between multiple users.

GSM/TDMA uses a Time Division method. TDMA, in fact, stands for Time Division Multiple Access. Simply put, this means that each device on the local network is allocated a time slice where it "owns" the bandwidth, and it can send/receive its data.
So lets just pick a number and say there are 30 available time slices in a given cycle. Each phone would then get 1/30th of every cycle that it could send and receive data (aka, voice).
CDMA uses a different method, called Code Division Multiple Access. The specifics of how it breaks the cycle up are beyond me, but how it works out is that the phones only get a slice of the bandwidth cycle when they actually need one. So if you are not talking, and the other person is not talking, nothing is transmitted.
With GSM/TDMA, each phone is transmitting and receiving during its slices of the bandwidth cycle, whether it needs it or not.
Since most coversations are comprised largely of silence, the end result is that CDMA phones have to transmit less data. They don't have to send silence, like GSM/TDMA phones do.
This means a few things. More CDMA calls can be fit into a given amount of frequency spectrum (ie. it is more efficient for the network), less radiation is being created from the phone towards the user (you only get radiation when you are talking, basically), and battery power is conserved since the handset only transmits when it actually has something to send.
There are other differences, too, that I can't get into. For one, it is harder to implement a CDMA network. The tower placement is more difficult. Dealing with hills is more difficult than with GSM/TDMA. Things like that.
But in general, CDMA is vastly superior technology. Not surprising since Qualcomm's version of it (that which is used in CDMA and WCDMA phones) is newer technology, even if the basics were in use by the US military as far back as the 40s.
The important thing for me, though, is the SIM card. Had CDMA implemented the use of a SIM card (something it very easily could have done), then the North American market would be very different today, and there would be more CDMA networks in other countries. The SIM card allows people to easily switch phones, and that helps the market.