Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Mobile Standards

Dave Shea is having a spot of bother with Canadian mobile networks. He wants a PalmOne Treo, but a complicated mess of contract periods, mobile standards and network policies seem to be getting in his way.
Having read that, I am very glad that the mobile system in the UK is much, much simpler, and has fewer lock-ins than Canada. Here’s a table I’ve concocted to show the differences:

Comparison of UK and Canadian Mobile Phone Networks
Mobile standardGSM or CDMA, varies between carrierAll GSM
Area coverageDifferent networks cover different parts of the countryAll networks cover all of the country reasonably well.
Number portabilityNumber is forever tied to one network company.Numbers can be moved between networks and contracts, usually for about £20
Typical minimum contract period3 years1 year

CDMA is slightly faster than GSM but doesn’t make use of SIM cards so it’s almost impossible to move an account between phones anyway. While locking of phones to a particular network’s SIM card is common in the UK, there’s a buzzing grey market in unlocking phones to work on all networks (although some legilation from the government or Europe banning locking on competition grounds would be nice). Although I’ve had 3 different phones in the past year (Nokia 3410, Sony Ericcson T300 and now Nokia 7250) moving between handsets has been a simple case of taking the SIM card out of one and putting it in the other. While unlocking does make the situation more difficult, on the whole, the user is the one who is in control.
Frank, over at Funtime Franky, had a similar experience when he emigrated to Canada last year. Phones were expensive to buy and there were lots of silly extra charges too.


  1. The situation is approximately the same in the United States. We do have “local number portability,” so that if you switch carriers, you can still retain your number, as long as you have not moved to a different “geographical area.” I currently use Verizon, which uses primarily CDMA, but would like to switch to a GSM carrier, but I would be forced to change numbers, because of the stupid area code rules.

  2. You forgot about “Three” which is a UMTS network.

  3. I would kill (or maybe just maim) for a Treo 650.