July 11, 2013

Tracfone GSM Vs. CDMA Phones

What is the Difference Between GSM and CDMA Tracfones?

Tracfone is a low cost, prepaid cell phone service provider that uses other major cell service towers from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and others to provide service.

Tracfone offers two general types of phones - CDMA and GSM. But what is the difference, and how can you tell which one you have, and which one you should get? Get those questions and more answered right here!

What Are GSM and CDMA Cell Phones?

Let's start by giving a little more information about GSM and CDMA:

GSM, which stands for Global System for Mobile communication, is the more popular cell phone standard worldwide, but not as much here in the United States. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM networks for all their cell phone service, and Tracfone cell phones that use GSM run off of one of those two major carriers.

CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access and is less popular world wide, but more popular in America. It is used by Sprint and Verizon for their cell phone service, and any Tracfone devices that use CDMA run off one of those two networks.

So, GSM or CDMA cell phones are simply cell phones that run on one of those two networks.

For more general details on the differences between GSM and CDMA networks visit GSM vs CDMA on Diffen

How to Tell If You Have a GSM or CDMA Tracfone:

GSM vs CDMA tracfone cell phones
LG 505C (CDMA)
This is a common question with Tracfone users that has a very simple answer.

If your cell phone ends with a 'C' it uses the CDMA Network. An example is the LG 505C. Notice the 'C' at the end of the name. All Tracfone mobile devices that end with "C' use either Verizon or Sprint networks.

If your cell phone ends with a 'G' it used the GSM Network. An example is the LG 840G. All Tracfone cell phones that end with this 'G' use the GSM network, which is either T-Mobile or AT&T. GSM phones have been very popular with Tracfone, but recently there has been a wave of Android smartphones for Tracfone and they all use Verizon CDMA service.

For more on these smartphones, visit our Cell Phone Reviews page where we have a full list including all of the recent Android smartphones..

Check out our recent post, Where to Buy Tracfone Prepaid Minutes

Should I Buy a GSM or CDMA Tracfone?

This is also a question we get here at TracfoneReviewer quite often. Many people are unsure which type of phone to get, those ending with 'C' or 'G'?

Here is what it comes down to: As mentioned above, Tracfone cell phones ending with 'C' use the CDMA networks of Verizon and Sprint and phones ending in 'G' use AT&T and T-Mobile. Thus, you should get the phone that will use the network that has the best coverage in your area.

This may take a little research to discover, you may want to talk with friends or look up information online, but when you have found which major cell phone provider works best in your area, use the cell phone from Tracfone that will use that network.

Many cities have either GSM or CDMA as the more dominant provider for a variety of reasons, so be sure to find out which will work better. You can go on the Tracfone website and shop for cell phones there, where they will ask for your zip and determine which type of phone you should get.

The Android powered smartphones that Tracfone has recently released only use Verizon networks, so be sure to evaluate carefully if Verizon service is good in your area before getting a smartphone.

In the end, do a little research and you should find which type of phone will work best in your area.

Tracfone Cell Phones for GSM and CDMA Networks

Tracfone cell phones use either GSM or CDMA. Below we will share a list of cell phones from Tracfone organized by which type of network they use. This list does not include all of Tracfone's devices, but many of the most popular ones.

gsm cell phones vs cdma tracfones
Samsung S425G (GSM)
GSM phones - AT&T and T-Mobile
(Limited Android smartphones use GSM)
LG 306G
Motorola EX431G
Samsung S425G
LG 840G
LG 530G
LG 500G
Samsung S390G
LG 440G

CDMA phones - Verizon and Sprint
(Most Android smartphones use CDMA)
Samsung Galaxy Centura
Huawei Glory
ZTE Valet
LG Optimus Dynamic
LG Optimus Dynamic II
LG 505C
Samsung R455C
LG 501C
LG 290C

Recently, Tracfone also allows users to bring certain GSM or CDMA smartphones to use with their BYOP 4G LTE service. Visit our Tracfone BYOP page to learn more.

There are many more cell phone options from Tracfone besides these, but this is just a sample of cell phones categorized by which network they use.

Visit your Cell Phone Reviews page for links to all our reviews.

You may also find our recent posts, Top 3 LG Phones from Tracfone and the Best Tracfone Prepaid Cell Phone interesting and useful in finding a cell phone.

We hope this helped to answer questions, and ifyou have any more, just ask them in the comments. Share this with others who also might find it beneficial!

EDIT: For those who might be looking for zip codes that will allow you to shop for CDMA cell phones on the Tracfone website, here is one that worked: 89301 - Ely, NV.

69 comments :

Anonymous said...

This was the first thing I learned today that was of any use to me, thanks

Anonymous said...

Boy, I wish I had seen this a couple of days ago when I first started researching Tracfone. Great info on this website. If I know that the better service is from Verizon in my area, just East of Mesa, AZ, but the only phones that say they will work in my area are GSM, is there a way to get a CDMA phone for Verizon to work here? When they ask me my zip won't that force me to go with a GSM phone? I really like the Samsung S380C, but I'm not sure how to verify whether it can be activated in my area. Actually it looked like the whole Phoenix valley was GSM.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent information! Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

We just ordered the new 840g which shows it works in our area and even though my other phone were Cdma phone the tracfone website shows it works in my area but what a mistake. I pd full price for this phone and after sending me 3 sims cards and even a replacement 840g phone the end result was a headache for me and many hrs and confusing phone calls with Tracfone which has gone on for 2months now. Bottom line they finally told me the 840G phone would not work in my area and they were sending me another phone that would work in my area . received it today and it had recoditioned on the box which sells for 20.00 on line. My husband is at this moment trying to get his minutes and airtime transferred wish us luck .

Anonymous said...

I live in a rural area where Verizon CDMA service is OK and all the GSM services bite. But TracFone insisted my zip "has" GSM service. But to the earlier poster who thought your ZipCode would tie you to TracFone's decision, do what I did. Keep entering zip codes in rural parts of nevada, idaho, coastal CA/OR, etc until you find CDMA phones being offered to you. Then call and talk to a person and explain that you want the phone for your work that takes you to those remote areas frequently. They will sell it to you.

Peter Vanosdall said...

Wow, challenging situation! Hope things got straightened out in the end!

Peter Vanosdall said...

Yep, this is a good tip if you know you need a CDMA cell phone.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem where I live. I wound up buying a brand new unopened tracfone on EBAY.

Anonymous said...

Can I buy a GSM Trackphone and put my AT&T SIM in the phone?

Peter Vanosdall said...

Unfortunately, no. Tracfone cell phones don't allow this, they are very tough to unlock or use on any service besides tracfone.

Anonymous said...

Can a GSM Tracfone be used in Europe? Thanks for this info.

Anonymous said...

No, Tracfones don't work outside the US.

Anonymous said...

How about if you get a SIM card in the other country from another provider and change it out while in that country that has GSM service will Tracfone work?
Thanks,
Joey

Anonymous said...

Tracfone doesn't really care where you are, they just use the zip to determine which type of phone to send you when ordering on their website, but this sometimes has problems. In my area for example, for GSM they think AT&T and T-Mobile are equivalent in coverage, but they are not. I'd always had AT&T which works great, but one time they sent me a T-Mobile and it was terrible. It took a major effort to finally get them to change me back to AT&T. There was a way to tell from the SIM serial which service it was, I assume this is still true. I've been considering the Centura phone but there is a similar problem in my area with CDMA phones, Verizon works great but Sprint not so much. I don't really know how to make sure to get the Verizon other than just ask and hope for the best. At one time I had a list of ZIPs to use for getting the type phone/service wanted but can't find it now.

Brock Portland said...

I just signed up for Tracfone a few hours ago, when I entered the main ZIP code for my hometown of Portland, OR (97201), I was presented with both GSM and CDMA phones. Switching the billing/shipping address to the actual ZIP code I'm in was as simple as keying it in. If it isn't this easy for others, Portland's a semi-major city and the 'I travel there often' tip should work easily.
P.S. Thanks for the updated, truly helpful, informative website!

Anonymous said...

Nope. Tracfone locks down their phones so you can't use them with any other service.

Anonymous said...

Other than entering your zip code, can you find out which carriers support TracFone in various markets? For example, can you find out where a T-Mobile supported TracFone will work?

Anonymous said...

Trackfone worked in Puerto Vallarta on AT&T

Anonymous said...

So am I correct in assuming that my LG800G will NOT work in Canada?

Anonymous said...

Which other brands can use Tracfone service?

Anonymous said...

Does CDMA windows phone work with this? More specifically the Nokia Lumina's

Anonymous said...

Have a very old, still very useable, cellphone but looking for a newer model. I will switch # to new phone & reactivate old one with a new #. My question is: It is a Motorola C261 phone - is this GSM or CDMA? Would like to know, because I get great service with it where I am located when some people with smartphones don't always have good service, and want the new phone to be the same network. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have never been able to use my Tracfone in Canada, even only a short distance from the border.

Anonymous said...

Having the same issue with them on the same phone.

Anonymous said...

Great information here, thank you. Now that I know I want a cdma phone where I live. How do I tell if the phone is Verizon or Sprint? I've read that the sim cards ending letters can clue you in on this. I can't find the details for sprint/verizon - any body know?

Anonymous said...

How exactly can you tell from the Sim card which service it is?

Anonymous said...

Try doing it the other way. Tracfone has a purchase a SIM program, If not, it's Net10. I read you can buy a PREPAID AT&T phone or Verizon at a retail store. After you buy a month's service on that phone through the provider (by the day is cheap) you should be able to use the phone on another service. You may be able to buy a SIM from Tracfone and BYOP.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the unofficial coverage map from this blog you can see there are a few areas like Vancouver where two people get service on Tracfone. FIDO service in Vancouver and other parts of Canada use the Verizon LTE service. They wanted a LOT $100 for a clamshell phone from them. Might be able to get a Verizon prepaid phone and use FIDO service on that. Canadian cell plans are limited and expensive.

Anonymous said...

Can you use any GSM phone on Tracfone if you buy a SIM card from Tracfone and install it in the phone? There are lots of cheap but really nice unlocked GSM smartphones coming out now and it would be great to just buy a SIM from Tracfone and buy their service.

Anonymous said...

Google the first digits. I think it is the first 5.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently using an LG Tracfone ending with G. They are selling the 800G for my zip. BUT... they don't offer the 840G. Do you know the reason for that?

Anonymous said...

Not all Tracfone's ended in G or C. Example of some is LG3280 or Motorola V170. But now they starting to. I had to contact Tracfone regarding my old Motorola V170 and they ask me for info from cell and told it runs off Verizon.

Anonymous said...

I had to replace an LG800G phone with another LG800G phone. I noticed that the second phone didn't have all the features (missing email & 4 digit # capability) that the first one had. Later found out that the original phone had the AT&T carrier and the second phone had the T-Mobile carrier. The reception on the AT&T carrier phone was better and it had more features. How can I request the carrier when I buy a G model phone???

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me which local stores carry the 'Big Easy' Tracfone? I can tell from the packaging code which carrier comes with the phone. I live in Delaware.

Anonymous said...

In my area only Verizon will work. I had gobs of problems with Tracfone. Sent me wrong phones. I bought a number Tracfone said would work, which would not. Made many long expensive calls to Tracfone trying to get problem solved. Now I understand they simply sent me wrong phones. Plus they refused reimburse my lost minutes, which I had bought from them. Problem with Tracfone - you can only "hope" you get a phone that will work. So now I have 5 Tracfones which will not work in my area. Tracfone indifferent to problem.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much !

MARGO1224 said...

Can you get minutes transferred from a GMS Tracfone to a CDMA Tracfone?

Peter Vanosdall said...

Yes, that should work fine.

EL said...

Which AT & T sim card do I need for a Motorola EX431G ?

Anonymous said...

TY, just what I was looking for!

Anonymous said...

can you use any gsm phone on tracfone?
MacD

Joe Broderick said...

Can I get a track phone SIM card to work on my old sprint htc evo phone ??? Thanks...

Anonymous said...

Can you just take a sim card out of one phone and put it in an unlocked gsm phone?

Anonymous said...

Tracfone's website asks where the phone will primarily be USED! To the best of my knowledge you can live in Timbuktu and ask for a phone to be used in Siberia (joking here of course), and Tracfone will sell you whatever you desire. So, if you need a "C" phone, find a zip that will support it, and order away. A great tip though, is to ask friends, relatives, or whatever that live in your area to ascertain what cell service works best where. Tracfone website states I should use a GSM type phone, but that service is terrible, and I cannot make or receive calls from my home. My wife had old fashioned "candy bar" Motorola (C type) which she never had an ounce of trouble with. I ordered a LG 301C and reception is fantastic. Check carefully folks, as trying to correct the problem will give you a gigantic headache. Trust me, no joke!

Anonymous said...

I have had 2 CDMA phones, neither of which used a Sim card. My GSM phone did, in fact, have one. Do CDMA phones use Sim cards?

Anonymous said...

I have a Samsung galaxy g4, how can I tell if it's a gsm or CDMA and if it's a gsm can I be unlocked to be used on any gsm network if itz a gsm phone

Anonymous said...

Can you change your tracfone from gsm to cdma network

Anonymous said...

No. Its different hardware. Works on different frequencies.

Anonymous said...

WOW MANY!!!!!! thanks
I live in Oklahoma and in the area that I live the Verizon Sprint companies have a very week coverage while ATT or T-Mobile are the ones that cover it better, your article really
help a lot to decide what phone I need. Big help.

Jerry Yares said...

USA GSM phones only work in UK/Europe if they are 3-4 band phones. USA GSM is 800/1900 mHz and UK/Europe is 900/1800 mHz.

Anonymous said...

Just tell Tracfone that you need to use your phone in Beulah ND 58523 and they will sell you a CDMA phone. Before you buy, check the phone prices on Amazon

Anonymous said...

Same freqs but different protocol

Anonymous said...

I purchased an LG 800G tracphone a couple years ago. Got service fine. All of a sudden about 4 months ago, I quit getting signal in my area. Now they are saying there is NO service in my area. ARGH. All I need is a phone for emergencies when I drive. I dont need an ANDRDOID. I have a tablet and computer for that.

Anonymous said...

my tracfone LG 440G reception is ok in metro n.y. however,poor reception in las vegas.looking to replace lg 440g.

Anonymous said...

I have an interesting dilemma. My husband has an old LG200c. which works fine in our rural house. I have an LG220c. I seldom get any bars in the house and texting is iffy. I usually have to wait and see a few bars, then send. I don't understand why his older than dirt phone has great reception, but mine doesn't. His phone was activated in another area since we hadn't moved yet. I purchased the phone with the intention of using it where we moved. Mine was activated in the house or nearby. I forget, it's been a while. Could this be the reason? I was considering a smartphone so I can use the wi-fi for texting/web surfing. I have read wi-fi will still eat up minutes since you can't disable 3G. Can you help me on these matters? I would really like a smartphone that would work in the house, both texting and voice if I needed it.

Anonymous said...

I recently went from a simple but trusty LG 420 G Tracfrone (GSM) to the newer Moto E (CDMA). The MOTO E definitely does not have the reception that the 420 G did in our area. Buyer beware. Coverage maps can be misleading. It is the quality of the signal strength that counts in day to day use. I am now unable to receive signals inside of retail stores and at many locations I formerly took for granted. A friend of mine, a long time HAM radio operator, explained that carriers often share cell towers and even antennas. Essentially, the carrier who has the best contract with the cell tower owner often comes out as top dog with regard to signal strength irregardless of what the cell carriers claim. Be very careful, talk with someone who has a CDMA phone in your area before you switch. If you are at all familiar with the issue of the old analog cell phones vs the modern digital ones this is a very similar issue.

Anonymous said...

I've had fairly good luck with tracfone until recently when I had them transfer me from a CDMA to GSM phone .. they didn't tell me the min's data etc were not transferable .. and even though their policy states that if you reactivate your phone within 6 months you will receive min's assigned to that phone they where able to loose over three thousand min's that I never was able to recover .. I spent days and sent a formal written request ( that in itself is a adventure) for my min's uses ect. I'll probably stay with Tf but will never think of them the same again.

Anonymous said...

Correct. The way to use your phone while overseas (including Canada) is to use a VOIP app like Skype. Buy $10 of call credit and all you have to do is get wifi and then you can call any number worldwide. Only drawback is you can't receive a call unless someone else is also on Skype.

Anonymous said...

I had an LGDynamic II and decided to go to a Sunset model. So far I have been without cell service since the 29th of July, as of this post it is Aug 2nd. I went online to transfer my # and min/text/data, to the new phone. Got a message that an error had occurred. Called the number given was told it could take 48 hrs for info to transfer. called back after 48hr, it had not transferred, spent 1 hr and 22 min on phone, before tracfone determined that the new phone was registered in the wrong zipcode. Will need to send me a new SIM card, which I probably won't see til Aug 4 or 5, then will need to start all over again trying to get info transferred. How the phone got registered in the wrong zipcode is beyond me? Any ideas anyone. I hope after I get the new SIM card things get transferred ok. Always had tracfones, and was happy, this sure has soured me!

jim said...

CDMA-only phones do not use SIM cards. If any hybrid CDMA/GSM phones exist, the GSM side would require a SIM card.

jim said...

There is a reason for that, Anonymous. Your previous phones were CDMA (by your own admission); in other words, Verizon or Sprint. The 840G is a GSM phone; which will require AT&T or T-Mobile. Your Verizon service (CDMA) was probably great (it usually is for 3G). Your 840G relies on the local AT&T or T-Mobile service. The SIM card determines which service. So if the SIM provided was for the poorer local service provider -- which Tracfone really has no way of determining -- then you will have mucho problems. If you wish to continue with a GSM phone, find out who (AT&T or T-Mobile) has better service in your area and ask for a SIM card for particular service provider. Frankly, if you had good service with your CDMA phones, I'd look at CDMA phones only (like the L22C). The service test only recognizes that Tracfone has an access contract with the service provider in your area; it does NOT indicate what the quality of that service might be.

JAS said...

I'm so glad I found this blog!

Living in Chicago, Tracfone works well and has been a great bargain for me. However, I go to Europe 3X a year for a couple of weeks and would like to have a mobile for occasional use there. I contacted Tracfone tech support twice and was told the first time that if I bought an upgraded unlocked Tracfone I could buy a SIM card in Europe and use it there and then switch it back when I got home. The second expert said I couldn't. Which one is right and what are the potential unexpected consequences of trying this?

K0JTA said...

Well, I just placed my order for the refurbished Note 4 from Amazon! It is the black, 32 Gb unit on Verizon. I sure hope this will work, when I try to get this on the Tracfone BYOP (bring your own phone) plan. (I now have an LG L41C, a pleasing unit.)

I just found the following info:
http://tracfonereviewer.blogspot.com/2013/07/tracfone-gsm-vs-cdma-phones.html

This link has the following: "jimAugust 3, 2015 at 11:54 AM
CDMA-only phones do not use SIM cards. If any hybrid CDMA/GSM phones exist, the GSM side would require a SIM card."

So... Being that this is a Verizon phone that does not use or need (?) a SIM, maybe this is a non-issue for me?
(My wife did need a SIM card for her failed attempt to get her iPhone 5 onto the Tracfone BYOP plan.)

If I do need a SIM card for the Tracfone BYOP plan: Can I get a SIM card from eBay at a small savings? -Or, WILL TRACFONE JUST SEND ME A NEEDED SIM CARD at no cost???

Thank you; -Mike-

Anonymous said...

Will the phone only receive a signal from one or the other or both? For example if it is a G phone will it receive service from either ATT or T-Mobile or both?

Anonymous said...

When I get a new SIM card for my phone (T-Mobile doesn't work in my area, so they're sending me an AT&T SIM), do I have to reactivate my phone to get my number to transfer, or does that happen automatically?

Anonymous said...

Am really disgusted with Tracfone at the moment, they have sent me 2 replacement phones because I couldn't change the phone # to my zip code on original, these are GSM phones and do not work in my zip at all, now they have me waiting for a new SIM saying the phone will work, have family who work for at&t, phone will not work, nearest tower is 50 miles away, why didn't they just send me a cdma phone? Since they are the ones they sell for my area anyway

Tesslynn Amburgey said...

I use to have great results with tracphone, the basic model, only used for emergencies while living in rural area in CO mts...only phone that seemed to work at all in the remote rural area. I moved to Idaho, cell phone was set up in CO with the area code for Idaho...once I got here, have had nothing but problems with the new phone and reception. This explains a lot. Good luck having customer service DO anything, they are horrible. I called in on my landline for issues, I was working with 'several reps that were clueless, couldn't understand anything, read from a script. I had just added mins. a day before. I was on a call when I got a call, it dropped my call, and then I couldn't get any service...my vc mail rings busy, all my calls ring busy, all I get is a busy dial tone. Bars are fine, but something is wrong with the phone. I had minutes before I called in, and I wasn't calling on their phone, and even though they didn't do ANYTHING to help, other than tell me I had service in my area, and they asked me if I had put my phone in water recently, they couldn't/wouldn't DO anything. I finally said this is stupid, you aren't helping. After I hung up, I got a call back on my landline to ask about the service, I replied WORTHLESS...guess what, ALL my recently added minutes disappeared. I HATE TRACFONE, THEY HAVE NO CUSTOMER SERVICE, THEY STOLE MY MINUTES AND MY PHONE IS NOW USELESS AND I CAN'T RETURN IT, IT IS BARELY A MONTH OLD. STAY FAR AWAY FROM THEM!!!!

Andy Volodin said...

Thanks for great info. BTW, here’s a free IMEI checker tool as community service to validate gsm phones.

Anonymous said...

Thank You, this has solved a great mystery as to why my new replacement tracfone is garbage.The maps for our area are inaccurate and I have yet to find a really great service in our rural community. My old "G" tracfone was iffy sometimes, but acceptable considering the cost of service.When it broke they sold me a "C" phone which is useless.It took their support techs 4-5 tries just to activate it. I am going to return this new phone (At my expense), and hope the refund process isn't too painful.But!!! before I send it back I will buy a new "G" phone and transfer my service so I can keep my minutes. At least I know how to avoid this problem in the future.Thank You Again.