Short Answer: Total Wireless uses Verizon’s CDMA network, which means it connects phones to Verizon’s server (as opposed to using SIM cards) to offer cell phone service. While you may experience slower service with Total Wireless, you will likely experience fewer data lags and dropped calls than you would with a SIM card carrier. For more details about Total Wireless’s service, as well as a comparison of different types of carriers and network options, see below.
Is Total Wireless GSM or CDMA?
Total Wireless is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means 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 — we explain what this means below.
When shopping for a new device or carrier, a number of technical terms will confront you — typical jargon includes things like GSM, CDMA, bands, frequencies, 3G, 4G, and LTE. 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 the features and technologies specific to Total Wireless.
Understanding GSM and CDMA
Though GSM and CDMA sound complicated, they are simply ways to describe 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 so in completely different ways.
Global Systems for Mobiles (GSM) uses subscriber identification module (SIM) cards to connect you to a network. SIM cards also keep track of 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 — 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, for example, look up a restaurant’s address while you’re on the phone with the friends who want you to meet them there.
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks like Total Wireless (through Verizon) don’t use SIM cards. Instead, the provider verifies your account on a 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 service is slower than GSM, hitting speeds of a mere 3.6Mbps, while GSM maxes out at 42Mbps. CDMA also 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 discuss 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 be compatible with 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 a High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 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. Total Wireless offers 4G LTE phones and data packages.
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’ BYO phone 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 find out if your phone is compatible with other well-known networks, you can check your current network information against that of the other major carriers. Droid Life, a website for tech enthusiasts, provides a comparison chart; we detail the information in this chart below:
FrequencyCheck also allows you to search for compatible carriers for your phone, and vice versa.