In short, Total Wireless is CDMA. But, if you’re thinking about getting connected to its network, you should understand what that means first.

When shopping for a new device or carrier, a number of technical terms confront you — usually rattled off by a sales associate who catches you completely off guard. Typical jargon includes GSM, CDMA, bands, frequencies, 3G, 4G, and LTE. These are not concepts you necessarily want to learn on the spot. So, before you set out to buy a new phone or change providers, we’ll explain what these terms mean, how they affect your service, their impact on your ability to transfer an existing device to a new network, and features and technologies specific to Total Wireless.

Is Total Wireless GSM or CDMA?

Total Wireless is what’s called a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn’t have its own network and, instead, uses someone else’s. Total Wireless’ network partner is Verizon Wireless, which uses a CDMA network — but what in the world does that mean?

Understanding GSM and CDMA

Though GSM and CDMA sound complicated, they are nothing more than the technology responsible for wirelessly transmitting data, voice, and text to and from your phone. While these systems essentially do the same thing, they do them in completely different ways.

GSM

Global Systems for Mobiles (GSM) uses SIM cards to connect you to a network. SIM, or subscriber identification module, cards also remember your account settings and the services you’re allowed to access. In theory, the SIM cards used by GSM networks should allow you to switch phones by simply popping your SIM card into a new device — but, in reality, there are often complications. Some companies lock SIM cards to their networks, though federal law requires providers to allow customers to transfer to another service, so long as their bill is paid. GSM networks also allow for simultaneous voice and data use — so you can look up a restaurant’s address while you’re on the phone with the friends that want you to meet them there.

CDMA

Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, like Total Wireless, don’t use SIM cards. Instead, the provider verifies your account on the network’s server, which connects your phone and customizes its services according to your plan. Because CDMA devices connect this way, your service can only be transferred to another network by your carrier.

CDMA is slower than GSM, hitting speeds of a mere 3.6Mbps, while GSM maxes out at 42Mbps. And CDMA lacks the functionality to allow for simultaneous voice and data use. But, CDMA networks connect to a higher number of simultaneous cell towers than GSM, which can mean fewer data lags and dropped calls.

3G, 4G, and LTE

When cellular providers set out to sell speed, they refer to 3G, 4G, and LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks, which are actually generations of technology. And, because an old phone may not work on the newer technology, the speed you choose will determine the phone you buy or vice versa. 3G is the oldest network available, but it was the first one fast enough to support the smartphone. 4G followed and is faster, but it’s important to note that 4G and 4G LTE are not the same. LTE is the fastest network currently available, but, if a carrier advertises 4G without specifically noting that it is 4G LTE, it’s likely offering an HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) network, which is actually a faster version of the 3G GSM network. It’s not as fast as LTE, but it is faster than 3G.

Bands, Frequencies, and Transferring Your Phone

If you want to bring your phone with you in a switch to Total Wireless, check out Total Wireless’ BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) option. But, in order to transfer a device from one network to another, the bands and frequencies — or the radio signals used to transmit your data, texts, and calls — must be compatible. To check your phone’s compatibility with other well-known networks, see the chart from Droid Life, a website for tech enthusiasts, below:

In Summary

Total Wireless runs on the Verizon Wireless network, which uses CDMA technology. While there are drawbacks to CDMA, the system boasts fewer data lags and fewer dropped calls. In order to bring your phone with you in a switch to Total Wireless, the bands and frequencies must be compatible.