||“The two biggest differences between the CDMA and GSM standards are international compatibility and how the networks handle activating phones.”
Adama D. Brown, Brighthand FAQ: What’s the difference between CDMA and GSM?
Outside the U.S. and Canada, most GSM phones will still work, while almost all CDMA phones simply can’t be used overseas.
CDMA phones are activated remotely, by the carrier, using the phone’s serial number, known as the ESN. Since each carrier has a database of all the ESNs that are approved for its network, this lets most CDMA carriers refuse to activate phones not originally intended for their network.
GSM phones are activated differently. Each account is associated with what’s called a SIM card, or Subscriber Identity Module. This card, about the size of a fingertip and the thickness of a piece of paperboard, carries an encrypted version of all the information needed to identify your wireless account to the network. You slip it into the appropriate slot on a GSM phone (usually under the battery) and that phone is ready to use.