In the world of wireless devices and technology there has always been an ambiguity in what devices could be used on what network. The following guide will shed some light on what Android devices can be used on which networks in Canada (and abroad). *This is simply a guide and Android Bugle does not guarantee that an unlocked Android smartphone will work on a given network even if the frequencies match up as it is not uncommon for some devices not to work for technical reasons (IE: List of AWS 1700MHz devices that do not work on Mobilicity).
GSM vs. CDMA
Without getting too much into the specifics of how each technology is implemented there are a few important aspects to remember between GSM and CDMA networks. GSM network use the well known SIM cards to uniquely identify each subscriber while handsets are separately identified via IMEI. Where as CDMA handsets are network activated thus uniquely indentify the subscriber and a handset simultaneously.
Another notable difference is that once a GSM phone is unlocked it can generally be used on a network which uses wireless bands that are supported by their handsets whereas CDMA networks traditionally do not allow handsets to be transferred from one network to another.
2G, 3G, and 4G what does it all mean?
Both the GSM and CDMA tree have their own respective 2G and 3G technologies. For the sake of simplicity 2.5G and 3.5G will be rounded down to 2G and 3G technologies.
For the GSM telephony stack EDGE networks is a 2.5G technology, while UTMS, HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA) are 3G technologies. HSPA+ is a 3.75G technology and LTE is technically 3.9G technologies but wireless companies in the US (AT&T and T-Mobile) have begun to market them both as 4G technologies thus leading to the ITU allowing LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+ to be labeled 4G technologies.
For CDMA, 1x is the 2.5G standard where EVDO is 3G standard. This isn't too important to know as mentioned before CDMA networks will not allow for devices to be imported from other networks.
The different GSM iterations of cellular technology are all important to remember as we will see later since they affect which devices work on which networks.
So can I use my Android device on other networks?
The ultimate question is if one phone can be used on a network other than the one it was purchased to work on. Often people coming out of contracts will want to keep their Android handsets but go to another company. Sometimes people also purchase an unlocked Android phone from the US or even from Europe or Asia for use in Canada. This guide will help you figure out if this is possible or not.
First off, if you have a CDMA handset (the lack of a SIM card is a sure fire indicator) from Bell/Virgin or TELUS/Koodo (that isn't a world phone) or from the US (Sprint/Verizon), it is impossible to use the phone on a Canadian network other than the one it came from as Bell and TELUS does not allow the import CDMA devices from outside their network.
As you can see from the chart, TELUS, Bell and AT&T Android phones are compatible with Rogers/Fido. But the opposite isn't as simple, unlocked Rogers/Fido Android Phones will only work on the Bell or TELUS network if they are 3G/HSPA capable phones (although most if not all GSM Android devices are 3G/HSPA capable).
Bell, TELUS, Videotron, WIND and Mobilicity's networks are somewhat unique in the world of GSM as they are HSPA/HSPA+ ONLY therefore will ONLY work with 3G capable devices that have the supported frequencies. For example a Bell Android smartphone would never work on WIND and vice versa.
To know whether or not your handset is compatible with the network you intend to use, just check out the technical specifications of your handset on the official manufacturer's website or on the box of the device you have purchased, or plan to purchase.
For example the following is the box of a Rogers HTC Magic:
As you can see the phone supports HSPA 850/1900MHz and GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz. This means this phone once unlocked can be used on Bell, TELUS, AT&T with full 3G. While it can be used on T-Mobile as well as worldwide carriers with GSM/GPRS/EDGE (up to 2G Speeds after setting up the correct APN settings).
European/Asian phones will usually be Quad-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz so will work on Rogers/Fido with up to 2G speeds but no 3G speed as they use HSPA 900/2100MHz and are completely incompatible with Bell/TELUS/WIND/Mobilicity/Videotron.
In the future LTE 4G devices will use SIM cards and the wireless frequency of choice in North America seems to be heading towards 700MHz (old analog TV frequency) while 800MHz seems to be the one to be designated in Europe/Asia.
Check out the GSMA's website as it is a great resource to see which frequencies are used by which companies.