If you listen to the song at Disney World you may think it’s a small world, but after trying to use a mobile phone far from home you realize that this is not always true when it comes to mobile. Part of the problem, as it is with many technologies, is that mobile operating systems and networks were developed by different companies with the goal to get the leg up on the competition.
Think of this as the battle between Blu-Ray and HD DVDs. The results are very similar in the end. For handsets it’s the same problem… incompatibility. Coupled with international issues, using one handset can be as simple as pressing a button, while using another handset is just impossible.
GSM vs. CDMA
In the United States we have two main cellular technologies: GSM and CDMA. The first is GSM, which is the Global System for Mobile, and is actually used in many parts of the world, including Europe (where it has become the standard). This makes using a GSM phone in Europe pretty straightforward.
GSM can also be used in Canada, Latin America, throughout the Caribbean, in parts of Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It is also used to some extend in Asia and the Middle East.
The main carriers for GSM:
T-Mobile USA – ironically an American wing of the German telecom provider Deutsche Telekom. If you have T-Mobile in the U.S., going to Europe and using T-Mobile isn’t too difficult. The carrier has a roaming agreement in more than 190 countries, and the rates are generally reasonable. It is also easy enough for European users of T-Mobile to make their calls whilst in the U.S.
AT&T – what’s in a name? This AT&T is related to the original Ma Bell, so indirectly it would take a flow chart of past companies and name changes to really figure it out. But suffice it to say that AT&T does offer good worldwide phone support, so you can take that iPhone on the road and usually get a signal.
Neither AT&T nor T-Mobile will help travelers boarding a flight to Japan or South Korea. That would be far too easy.
CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is a completely different standard, and as with the American TV standard was our nation’s attempt to do things different from everyone else. CDMA has less worldwide coverage when compared to GSM, yet the U.S. remains the largest CDMA market and is thus used by the largest mobile phone operator in the world, Verizon Wireless, and it is also used by Sprint. It gets a little more confusing because some Sprint customers, who were former Nextel customers are on a slightly different technology.
The CDMA carriers:
Verizon – actually, the wireless division is jointly owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone, which is also the world’s largest mobile phone operator. Vodafone also hedged its bets and uses CDMA in more than 40 countries, while using GSM in more than 220 countries. But unless you have a dual-band GSM/CDMA handset, you’re probably out of luck trying to get a signal worldwide.