A few weeks ago, I convinced my mom to migrate our family plan over to Verizon. We had been with T-Mobile for almost four years, and I had gone through both the G1 and the G2 (both of which I still currently have). There was nothing wrong with T-Mobile, per se, but I felt it was important that I experience what a different part of the US mobile market has to offer. Both my mom and I received the Galaxy Nexus, while my little sister acquired her first real smartphone in the form of the HTC Incredible 2. Our phones are awesome, the service is awesome, and everyone is pretty happy.
In the past, I was always hesitant about even thinking about trying a different carrier. AT&T was AT&T, so that explains that, and Sprint seemed to have barely a clue as to where it was headed (e.g., it offered “4G” in the form of WiMAX, but now have plans to roll-out a separate “4G” Long Term Evolution (LTE) network). But Verizon looked all right, except for the fact that it was CDMA-based.
In the mobile world, two wireless technology branches dominate: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). GSM dominates the majority of the international market, including T-Mobile and AT&T in the United States. Meanwhile, CDMA holds a few markets in places like Japan and South America, as well as the US market in the form of Verizon and Sprint (and other regional carriers, of course).
This split in wireless technology created a problem in that it was very difficult to move phones between carriers. If the carrier you wanted to switch to was using a different technology, you would be forced into getting a new phone. One of the biggest reasons for this is because GSM uses the familiar SIM card to identify the phone, whereas CDMA is a SIM-less technology. In addition, if you are a Verizon user who ever wanted to, for instance, vacation in Europe, you would be hard pressed to find any coverage there, as CDMA is sparse in that market.
However, there is a silver lining at the present. Verizon opted to roll-out LTE for its “4G” offering. What is exciting about this is that LTE is a GSM-based technology.
What this means is that Verizon, the big dog of the US mobile market, is beginning its transition to the GSM set of standards. As mentioned previously, Sprint is also doing this. With any luck, they will eventually ditch CDMA altogether when it is time to roll-out true 4G, deemed Long Term Evolution Advanced.
The point of this article isn’t to point out that we are beginning to see carriers offer increasingly faster mobile networks. Rather, I’d like to point out the huge amount of choice the consumer will have if this all comes together in a nice manner. Imagine being with Verizon and deciding to hop on over to T-Mobile after it has rolled out its own 4G network (for the record, HSPA+ is not 4G; it is just very fast 3G). If the entire US market was using GSM-based technology, the switch would be as simple as swapping out SIM cards (or perhaps even simpler with a call to your new carrier). You would not need to worry about losing your current device, and the overall transition would be pretty painless.
Now, if everyone followed T-Mobile’s plea to adopt the 700MHz spectrum as the universal LTE band for the US market, things would improve to an even greater extent. Imagine having one device that could go virtually anywhere in the country and always have fast LTE coverage, either through your carrier or through a roaming plan. T-Mobile dreams of a fast, interoperable, nationwide wireless network. Let’s hope the people running this nation agree.
In addition to having increased interoperability in the United States, obviously the worry of not having service when you travel to other countries would all but vanish, also. Europe is working on its LTE roll-out, which means that as long as the spectrums agree (which again, hopefully they do) with your phone, you will always have coverage anywhere you go.
In essence, LTE means a step in the right direction. It means more choice, faster networks, and happier consumers all around.