Mobile Phone 101


I’m writing this because as I drafted another post I realized not many people are knowledgeable about mobile phone technology and a quick Mobile Phone 101 class may be helpful to many. In the United States there are 4 major mobile phone operators (listed in order of number of subscribers); AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. AT&T, which I have recently seen called AT&T Mobility and/or AT&T Wireless, is the former Cingular, and is fully owned by American phone giant AT&T. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between 55% owner Verizon Communications and 45% partner Vodafone; Vodafone being the English company which is the largest mobile operator in the World. Sprint and Nextel are owned by Sprint and T-Mobile is owned by German giant Deutsche Telecom. The large companies also typically have smaller companies, subsidiaries, and joint ventures operating using their name in different regions. There are also some virtual carriers such as Virgin Mobile, Qwest, Boost Mobile, and Amp’d that sell service, but don’t operate their own network in favor of renting space from one of the big 4, and there many other small carriers such as Dobson (which operates as Cellular One) and Alltel.

In America there are also 2 major mobile phone technologies; CDMA and GSM. CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access and is used by major players Verizon Wireless and Sprint, but not Nextel, as well as some smaller carries such as Alltel, US Cellular, and Cellular South. Many believe CDMA is the best mobile phone technology currently available, hence the Verizon commercials about their network. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications and is used by big boys AT&T and T-Mobile in America, and smaller carries such as Dobson Communication, which was recently purchased by AT&T. GSM is the dominate worldwide technology controlling about 80% of the market, and is used by Vodafone in each of their markets outside of the United States. The differences in technology are a large part of the reason you cannot keep your AT&T phone when switching to Verizon. The remainder is due to company greed even though the companies will blame it on network compatibility.

In my opinion the only 2 national carriers worth considering are AT&T and Verizon for people who travel out of their home area frequently. Verizon is widely considered to have the best network in America, but limited coverage outside of the States. AT&T is best if you travel outside of America often because their network is based on the same technology used in most of the modern World. Hopefully Sprint will fix the issue they are having and complete the integration with Nextel and become a recommendable third option soon. T-Mobile has stated they are expanding their American network so maybe they will make it a 4 horse race. To me the other carriers are either going to remain regional carriers targeting limited travelers, be purchased by the big 4 as Dobson recently has, or combine with each other to become a fifth national power.