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Wireless Network Standards

The acronyms wireless telecommunication technologies and standards can be overwhelming. But understanding the basic concepts can help you to buy the right phone. Don't worry about the details unless you care about the technology.

Quick summary of the most important wireless standards:

  • AMPS means analog network. Older system, but most coverage.
  • Anything with a "D" means digital network (CDMA, TDMA). Newer systems replacing AMPS.
  • GSM is the most widespread digital network standard in the world and provides fast and enhanced services.

The wide area wireless industry is divided into three major technology groups: GSM, CDMA2000 and WiMax. GSM and CDMA span 2G to 4G. WiMax spans 3G to 4G.

Key wireless (radio signal) technologies used by mobile phones, pagers and wireless computers:




Data Speed


AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service)

Analog cellular phone system. In Europe, called TACS (Total Access Communication System). Being retired in many countries.

800 MHz
900 MHz

Voice only. No data capability

AMPS cell phones. Not compatible with European mobile phone standards

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)

Digital cellular telephone system; most-used system worldwide. On 650 networks in 210 countries.

850 MHz (US & South America)
900 MHz (Europe)
1,800 MHz (Asia)
1,900 MHz (US and Canada)

130 Kbps

Not compatible with CDMA, TDMA networks

3GSM (or 3G)

Third generation GSM network. Common in Europe and Asia.

1,920-1,980 MHz
2,110-2,170 MHz

2 Mbps data rate

Not compatible with CDMA networks

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)

Digital telephone system used mainly by US cellular networks

800 MHz
900 MHz
1,700 MHz
1,800 MHz
1,900 MHz

64 Kbps

Not compatible with GSM, TDMA networks


CDMA-based network. 2.5G version is cdma2000. 1x 3G version is cdma2000 3x.

Any existing band

144 Kbps. Future speeds up to 4.8 Mbps

Not compatible with GSM, TDMA networks


Wideband CDMA is the 3G standard most GSM carriers are moving to.


384 Kbps


TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access)

Digital cellular telephone systems

800 MHz
1,900 MHz

64-120 Kbps data rates

Not compatible with GSM, CDMA networks

iDEN (integrated Digital Enhanced Network)

Provides voice, data, short messages (SMS) and two-way radio. Based on GSM & TDMA.

800 MHz
900 MHz
1,500 MHz

64 Kbps

GSM phones. Nextel in US

EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution)

EDGE is improved GSM/GPRS data rate.

GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900

384 Kbps



EVolution-Data Only.
Advanced CDMA2000 standard.


1xRTT: 70 Kbps
RevA: 600 Kbps


GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)

A service overlaid on GSM networks that provides moderate-speed wireless data communications such as Internet access, E-mail and file-transfer.

Determined by host network

40-171 Kbps

Does not support CDMA networks


Bluetooth wirelessly connects a handset to another device, such as a headset, printer or computer

2.4 GHz. Range up to 33 feet (10 meters). Other 2.4 GHz devices, such as cordless phones, may cause interference.

720 Kbps.


CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data)

System used to transmit data over analog cellular networks

800 MHz
1,900 MHz

19.2 Kbps data rate


HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data)

Provides faster data services over GSM networks for Internet, e-mail, and file transfer.

800 MHz & 1,900 MHz GSM networks

28.8-57.6 Kbps.


PTT (Push-To-Talk)

Two-way communication service ("walkie talkie"). Allows talking in only one direction at a time, compared to a cell phone that allows simultaneous two-way conversation.


Voice service

Works with a PTT-enabled handset on the same network.

Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity)

A wireless local access network with IEEE 802.11 standard. Direct access to the Internet for Internet phone (VoIP) or browsing.

 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz

Voice service (VoIP).
3-15 Mbps data service.

Works with Wi-Fi handsets in Wi-Fi areas (hotspots) for free or fee.


Wireless system (IEEE 802.16) for metropolitan area networks


3 Mbps

WiMax areas

GPS (Global Positioning System)

Satellite-based navigation system provides precise (15 meters) location of the GPS receiver anywhere in the world. Operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.

 1575.42 MHz (civilian use)

Data service

Works with GPS-enabled handsets. Fees may apply.

MHz (Megahertz) – Frequency of vibration of the radio signal.

GHz (Gigahertz) – Frequency of vibration of the radio signal. Equals 1,000 MHz.

Kbps (Kilo bits per second) – Rate of transfer of digital data.

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