Bombarded by advertisements to get a new GSM SIM card? Were they followed by promises of better terms, more mobile data, and free SMS calls, with the only requirement to switch carriers? This is usually the point people start researching whether this is something they need or are even eligible for. At that time, they stumble upon articles like ours. Well, you chose well – we’ll tell you everything you need to know about GSM SIM cards. This includes their benefits, practical applications, and how to know if it’s the right fit for you. Let’s get into it – here’s a detailed answer to your question, “what is GSM SIM card?”
What is GSM?
To understand the whole picture, you need to know the foundation. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is a telecommunications standard for wireless technology. It was the first digital multiple access network technology after analog phones (also known as 1G) and its first iteration was known as 2G or 2nd Generation GSM. It works by “time division”. When you call someone, your voice is converted into digital data and assigned a time and a slot at the network tower and put in a queue. When it reaches its assigned time slot, the recipient of the call can access the digital data and hear the audio. The third-generation GSM (3G GSM) is the last iteration that’s still used widely.
2G/3G GSM vs 4G/5G GSM SIM cards
Here’s the comparison between older and modern applications of GSM:
Why do 2G and 3G GSM cards still exist?
It goes without saying that 2G and 3G standards are old. For example, 2G GSM started growing in popularity in 1987. With the rapid advancement of technology, they should’ve disappeared years ago. So, why are they still offered? Well, building and expanding networks are costly investments and carriers have spent a few decades of time and money creating a worldwide network. For that reason, it would cost an exorbitant amount to make a switch to new network technology. Another problem is the percentage of customers who use old phones, not smartphones. They are either satisfied with limited capabilities or can’t afford to switch to newer devices.
Is 4G or 5G GSM real?
No, it is just a term used for marketing purposes. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the network standard of the future and carriers using both GSM and CDMA plan on switching to it permanently. During the transition period, those with a GSM infrastructure came up with a solution that fits all customers. They started selling GSM SIM cards with 4G and/or 5G LTE capabilities enabled, which are also advertised as GSM LTE SIM cards. This allows people who need 2G or 3G GSM to maintain a connection to the network while simultaneously adding 4G and/or 5G capabilities required for modern use.
Where are GSM SIM cards used?
From the very beginning, GSM expanded faster than CDMA. At the time of writing this article, between 80% and 90% of networks worldwide are GSM. For that reason, they’re great for traveling internationally. Unlike CDMA, you can choose between buying a SIM card with short-term benefits when you get there or use roaming with your native network. In the United States, the main carriers using GSM are AT&T and T-Mobile.
Are all SIM cards GSM?
Not all SIM cards use a GSM standard, but the majority currently do. All GSM-compatible phones indeed require a SIM card to be recognized and authorized on the network, though. See: what is in a SIM card?. Also, while CDMA phones don’t require one, there are CDMA SIM cards on the market. Similarly, LTE-only SIM cards are being introduced at a steady pace. The end-goal of carriers is to get rid of SIM cards altogether in favor of embedded SIM cards.
How to tell if my SIM Card is GSM?
We showed the steps required to check whether the SIM card is GSM compatible in the CDMA SIM card article linked above. Scroll to the headline How to check whether the smartphone uses CDMA. You can also read the manual that came with your smartphone or do a Google search with your smartphone model number.
Other GSM SIM card benefits
There must be a good reason that the vast majority of people use GSM. If it weren’t for the obstacles we mentioned, the number would’ve been close to 100%. Here are some of the benefits of GSM SIM cards that make them appealing to users:
1. Comes in different sizes
2. Supports different payment plans
3. Makes it easy to switch carriers and phones
Since the majority of carriers across the globe use GSM, you can switch carriers if you aren’t satisfied. Sometimes you’ll have to unlock a SIM card before you swap SIM cards, though. As for smartphones, unlike with CDMA, you don’t have to use a phone configured and sold by the carrier.
4. Has applications outside of smartphones
We already wrote about other common uses of GSM SIM cards – smartwatches with SIM cards and tablets with a SIM card slot. Other uses include a variety of IoT (Internet of Things) devices such as GPS trackers, security cameras, alarms, car gadgets, portable routers, and even satellite phones.