Cellular Networks Explained

Two mobile network standards go to war

Now that you've decided on a service provider, you've narrowed the search for a phone and network to only those that are compatible with the service provider you've chosen. In selecting the service provider you have probably already determined a lot about your cell phone needs.

Cell Phones
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Which Network?

The first decision you'll need to make involves deciding what bands you'll need to connect to when using your phone. If connecting overseas, you'll need a tri-band, quad-band or multi-band phone. These phones connect networks on different frequencies (depending on what's available). The multi-band phone will usually cross between CDMA and GSM giving you best of both worlds whether you're home in North America or abroad.

If you'll do a lot of roaming [Finding the right network], you know you'll need a national plan and a multi-band phone that can connect to multiple North American networks. Having chosen a specific provider you've got a good idea whether you'll be using a GSM or CDMA network.

Cell Phone Bands

You'll hear a lot about bands in cell phone hardware - none of it has anything to do with music. In fact it's the opposite because compared to beautiful music, most cell phones sound like you're listening to a headache.

  • Tri-Mode Phones: Can connect to a network on three frequencies. Usually two digital and one analogue. Tri-Mode is great for roaming when you live in or near rural areas.
  • Dual Band: Generally a dual band phone can connect to digital networks in two frequencies. Sometimes you'll see dual band feature expressed as 850/1900MHz.
  • Multi-Network: This is a phone capable of connecting to either GSM or CDMA. They're capable of European GSM frequencies and North American CDMA frequencies.
  • Tri-Band / Quad-Band Phones: These phones are for globetrotters who will spend time overseas and need their phone to work. The most common tri-band frequencies include 850 / 1800 / 1900 MHz covering two North American frequencies and one European frequency of 1800 MHz. Some Tri-band phones are more Euro-centric with only one North American frequency 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz. These are probably best avoided unless you're making more calls from Europe.

Now comes the fun part, picking an actual phone. When it comes to the hardware you'll carry around, cell phones come in three basic types and three basic designs.