Choose the Right Phone for the Network

Choose the Right Phone for the Network

A Nokia mobile phone works with either the GSM network or the CDMA network. You need to choose the right model to match your wireless operator.

Not all Nokia smartphones work with all wireless operators everywhere in the world. Wireless operators build their networks using different technologies, and a given phone typically works with only one of the network technologies.

If you got your Nokia smartphone directly from the wireless operator when you signed up for a service plan, you can rest assured that the device is compatible with the operator's wireless network in your area. However, as smartphone power users and gadget lovers, many of us actually buy cutting-edge devices directly from electronics stores and then use them with existing service plans. In this case, you need to be a little careful to select a phone that works with your operator's network.

Buying a smartphone from a third-party electronics store without a service plan will usually cost you more, since the mobile operator does not subsidize the cost of the device with service revenues in this case. However, you will have access to the latest devices that have not been officially supported by the operator, and you will be freed from operator lock-in [Hack #7]. Additionally, you get a handset unmolested by the mobile operator. Many operators apply custom firmware and branding to their handsets, such as adding new icons or removing functionality from the device. Even if you get a device unlocked from your operator, it will still have these customizations in place, and sometimes this can produce very undesirable effects.

Popular networking technologies used by today's wireless operators include GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network), and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access):


The GSM technology was originally developed in Europe for digital voice networks. It has been extended to support fast wireless data access via the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS; 2040 kbps), EDGE (40 230 kbps), and UMTS (384 kbps and up) protocols. GSM phones operate at frequencies of around 900, 850, 1800, and 1900 MHz. It is now the most widely used wireless phone network technology in the world. Most Nokia phones support GSM and GPRS. A few newer models also support EDGE and UMTS. I discuss how to set up data networking on Nokia GSM phones in "Connect Your Phone to the Internet" [Hack #10].


The iDEN technology is Motorola's proprietary wireless networking technology based on (but not compatible with) GSM. It attempts to combine the digital phone, two-way radio, alphanumeric pager, and data/fax modem in a single network. The iDEN network is used in about a dozen countries. In North America, Nextel and Mike (Telus Mobility) are iDEN operators. Nokia phones do not work on iDEN networks.


The CDMA technology is developed and licensed by Qualcomm. It is a spread-spectrum technology that uses a single-frequency band for all traffic. Individual transmission is differentiated via a unique code assigned by the network before transmission. CDMA supports wireless data at a peak of 153 kbps, roughly three times the speed of GPRS. As of late 2004, 15 models of CDMA-compatible Nokia devices were available. However, when it comes to device software and additional features, Nokia's CDMA devices are not as technically advanced as its GSM-based devices.

Network availability is a consideration if you frequently travel abroad. For instance, most wireless operators in Western Europe use the GSM network. Your CDMA phone will have limited coverage there. On the other hand, South Korea uses mostly CDMA networks.

To get a complete list of GSM and CDMA devices from Nokia, go to the Forum Nokia device matrix at devices and choose GSM or CDMA in the "Devices filtered by" drop-down box (see Figure).

The TDMA filter in the device matrix lists older TDMA devices. Those devices are no longer actively marketed and are not compatible with the newer GSM networks.

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