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Primer: Intro To Cellular Networks

Introduction Basics Details Brief History Keep It Going Comments  18  

Sep 19, 2005, 7:00 PM   by Eric Lin

The most basic primer ever to how a cell phone works.

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Have you noticed once people have acquired some expertise on a subject, they talk about it as though everyone should know as much as they do? And if you don't understand what they are saying, some of those people are not nice enough to explain it to you, belittling you instead? People who know about cell phones are not necessarily geniuses or geeks. They do not have any special powers that bestow technical knowledge upon them. They've simply been around cellular technology long enough to have picked it up.

Now you don't have to spend years around mobile phones just to understand how they work. We've broken it down in plain English so that the next time someone goes spouting off about CDMA 2000 1xRTT or some other obscure cellular acronym, you can join in the conversation with confidence.



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This forum is closed.


Feb 11, 2006, 2:12 AM

Happy to Help

This article is a great introduction to how mobile technology works. But, I am a rep. for Cingular, Verizon, Sprint, TMobile, and Cricket. I have customers every day who might need a little more "down-to-earth" explanation. It's true, CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint are blowing GSM carriers away right now as far as data is concerned in the US(until UMTS is widely available), but a very large portion of wireless consumers don't care about data (b/c they don't use it). From my experience, I have learned that most customers are more concerned about overall coverage. This concern can be easily handled by finding out what areas this person travels too. Obviously, CDMA networks have more digital towers plus analog capabilities (on cert...

Nov 13, 2005, 4:21 PM

Put this on the main website!!!

Hello Eric,

FINE, fine piece of work, that Primer to Cellular Networks. PUT IT ON THE MAIN SITE, off to the left, with the other links! Man, this is the kind of stuff that I DON'T want to have to go hunting around for--dude, I'm BACK to dial-up, because I can't afford DSL--when I'm surfing.

I found the site via Jim Karpen's Web Guide at PocketPC Magazine http://www.pocketpcmag.com/newsl_JKWG/webguid e.asp?id=273, and I was elated. This is the kind of stuff I need: short, concise and to the point. You did it well here, Eric. Thank you very much...BUT PUT IT ON THE MAIN SITE!!!

Hey, thanks again,

See, this is what I mean. I orginally found this article under...what the hek was it...Articles, I think it was. Now it's under "In Depth." I had to go hunting and pecking again!

Come on, guys. Keep it consistent, and put this link on the left-hand...
eric Lin

Oct 10, 2005, 2:10 PM

you asked...

everyone who has responded to this primer so far, thank you. two big things will come out of all your responses. the first is that we will directly link terms in our glossary to their first appearance in this primer, so future users will immediately be able to click and learn more about terms that we don't spend much time on in the basic primer.

the second is that we are bumping our spectrum primer (we're still doing it, but just not first) in favor of a more thorough explanation of gsm and cdma - how each works, what each is capable of, where each is heading in the foreseeable future and where each is available.

this comparison should answer many of your requests and questions, which is why we haven't really been answering them here.

Oct 5, 2005, 3:49 PM

Digging Deeper


Great overview. I'd like to dig deeper into spectrum use technologies (protocols, compression schemes, etc.) What are some references (books, sites) that you find useful?



Sep 22, 2005, 6:05 PM

Excellent, Educational, Easy to Understand Article by Eric Lin

You have provided us with a very clear, logical, well-presented education here and I appreciate it a lot. Thank you!

Now my question, which has practical consequences regarding our choice of cell phone to buy:

I understand that upgrading GSM (Cingular and T-Mobile) will be more costly than upgrading CDMA/SPC (Verizon and Sprint).

If that is true, it stands to reason that the CDMA upgrade will progress faster than the GSM upgrades.

The ultimate projection is that CDMA > EV-DO > EVDO Revision will be more widespread than GSM > WCDMA/UMTS > HSUPA & UTRAN LTE and will happen at a faster rate, because it will cost Verizon and Sprint less to implement. More Verizon and Sprint people will be enjoying their "bigger/faster" soone...
lorna said:
BTW, whoever decided to call it WCDMA should have realized that it would be perceived by laymen as a CDMA rather than a GSM upgrade. I think that they should have used only UMTS, which doesn't mislead.


Sep 20, 2005, 1:23 PM

Discuss Different Technologies

That was a great article on the basics but how about a few that concentrate on the different technologies, maybe go in-depth into GSM or iDen and CDMA, explain their advantages, disadvantages, and their future paths. Will the technologies be obsolete in the near future or will they be around in one form or another in 20 years? Again, thanks for the article.
although protocols were not on our list of future primers, we will consider it. it will be tough to do without fanning the flame wars. we see enough gsm vs cdma animosity on phonescoop as it is.

we also considered adding further depth to how each t...

Sep 21, 2005, 4:23 PM

Taking the time

Thank you Eric for taking the time to address the gap in knowledge between the veteran cellular soldier and the inexperienced cellular civilian. It seems, all too often, that, here on phonescoop, an earnest interest in the world of mobile technology is met with either a bitter elitist attitude or childish squabbling and biased propaganda from the fanatics associated with each carrier. Sad to say, most people would rather give up on trying to learn rather than wade through the murky waters of cellular angst that fill the forums. It is refreshing to see a clear and knowledgeable explanation free of lop-sided fanatacism and bickering. Please continue to help those who wish to gain a clear understanding, and help the rest of us to follow in ...

Sep 21, 2005, 7:43 AM

Excellent article - thanks for taking the time to do this...

I would like to echo the request for more "objective" data on the various technologies (capacities, power outputs, range discussions, building penetration etc.) as well as some objective stats on the different networks (total number of towers, number of towers on various technologies etc.) - if this kind of information is even available.

Again - this was a superb intro and anything else is gravy and very much appreciated.

Thx as well for maintaining this whole site - even though I'm not involved in the industry per se', I have an active interest in technology and manage all the cellular devices for our company and this site is one of my main sources of information - it's a huge help.

Sep 20, 2005, 3:56 PM

Clearing things up for the beginners...

...is definitely a good move. Nice job, Eric.

Sep 20, 2005, 12:27 PM

very informative article

thanx for the article eric lin.. i found it to be informative as always... keep up the good work, it is appreciated

p.s first post, alright!!
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