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Cellular telecommunications represent a wide array of technologies that provide mobile communications to users, both in the form of voice and data transmissions. Originally, these technologies were developed by the military, but have since become more available to much of the general population in many parts of the world. Telecommunications companies provide cellular service through a number of different standards. One standard is not typically compatible with that of other telecommunications networks.
At the most basic level, cellular communications are conducted with a device that is not connected to a permanent power source. Cellular means the device has a fuel cell on board, most likely in the form of a common battery. While this could theoretically also apply to cordless phones, cellular phones are different in that they do not need a permanent base to transmit and receive signals.
At first, cellular telecommunications were largely conducted over analog systems. These systems recorded waveforms and transmitted those waves without substantially altering the original condition. The waveform could be altered unintentionally by a degradation in the signal, especially over longer distances. Further, these signals could also easily be intercepted, making security of the transmission a key concern among those who had sensitive information to share.
Digital cellular telecommunications technologies changed that, converting the signals into groups of numbers that could not be broken down over time or distance. As a result of this digital transformation, cellular telecommunications are based on many different standards. If a cellular network uses one system and a particular phone uses a different system, the two will not be able to communicate. Phones and systems that operate on the same standard can usually work with each other, even if the system is not owned by the customer's specific service provider.
The most popular of the digital standards are Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). GSM is the standard used in much of the world. In the United States, it shares market share with CDMA. Phones that run on a CDMA standard will likely be useless in European countries and other spots where GSM is the only standard used. In the United States, both standards often are used within the same geographic area.
Where more than one standard is available, individuals may have a choice in cellular telecommunications, but this is not guaranteed. Those who have questions about service or compatibility should check with the different cellular telecommunications companies serving their area. In the end, the final choice may not be a matter of cellular technology standards, but rather which companies provide the best service and value.