Blackberry Pearl 8130

I hate CDMA, but I like getting a deal, too.

Well I’ve done it. Three months after switching jobs and no longer having a work phone I’ve gone out and bought myself one. My old number is with Heather Ann and she decided to keep it. I had to do a bit of give and take with what I wanted, however. Most importantly, I almost had no choice but to go with Telus (meaning a CDMA phone). I’m not a fan of CDMA for a couple of reasons.

The voice quality is just not as good as GSM in the city. CDMA handles being further away from towers better as well as handover between towers, but all else being equal GSM phones just seem to have clearer reception. This has always been a subjective thing, though. But when I had a GSM phone in the past, whenever a Bell or Telus user used it they’d always comment on what a good quality voice the phone had. In my limited use of the new phone so far, it seems that EV-DO hasn’t improved on this.

The battery life blows. I get as much standby time as most GSM phones have talk time. This is because of the pulse nature of GSM, whereas CDMA2000 phones are always transmitting. For the short time I had a dual CDMA/GSM Blackberry at Cryptologic, when I was in Canada it had to be recharged every night. Every time I went to Europe I had to recharge it every 5 days despite using it more heavily there. To be fair, UMTS (GSM’s 3G) is moving to CDMA is a channel access method. This is one of the reasons why there’s so much talk of battery life in 3G phones (like the iphone).

Roaming sucks. I can pretty much only use the phone in Canada, the states, China, and New Zealand plus a handful of tiny countries. The list is shrinking. In Australia Telstra just completed it’s switch to GSM. Verizon in the states has announced a switch-over is planned. What’s worse is even if I had one of the two dual cdma/gsm phones that Telus offers, roaming to GSM countries is an order of magnitude more expensive than even Rogers because Telus can’t have reciprocal roaming agreements.

Limited phone models to choose from. The Pearl model that I got only became available at the same time as the second generation GSM perl. This is because cdma phones have ~10% of the worldwide phone market. This at least didn’t affect me, but if I didn’t want a blackberry I wouldn’t have been able to get an iphone or a sony Ericsson.

Plus a few minor issues such as GSM generally works better in buildings, sim cards allow me control of my phone or changing them (It would have been much more difficult for me to have bought a used CDMA phone). In roaming I could just buy a local sim and use it.

There are benefits to CDMA, though. From a provider point of view, you can cram in a lot more calls into the same amount of spectrum (UMTS is equal, though). The overall range to a tower can be much further (GSM is locked at 35km due to technical limitations) so you can see how this is beneficial to a more spread out North American population. 5 years ago you definitely had better CDMA coverage at the cottage. Hand-offs are also better, so if you’re on the highway there’s less chance of a dropped call. Higher data rates have been a norm on CDMA networks for awhile now (almost 3 years for 1xEV-DO in Canada). Rogers just activated HSPA a few months ago. Also, CDMA phones don’t cause interference with nearby speakers. Due to the delays in the new standards, some European companies have build out 450MHz networks for wireless data only using EV-DO…

So if I obviously hate CDMA why did I go for it? Because I live in Canada! The land of the highest mobile rates in the developed world. I would have gone with fido, except that they don’t even offer a blackberry and are essentially rogers (notice I spelled it with a small letter) with per second billing for everything else. Since they’re owned by rogers, there’s no other GSM option in Canada. My only two other options for national carriers with smart phones are Bell and Telus. Bell had horrible rates and there was absolutely no way to negotiate with them. At Crypto, I lost my phone once and they don’t even have 24x7 support! What in the FUCK?!

Telus had an unlimited data plan, was very flexible, and was willing to at least negotiate (I think they’re scared of the iphone). They threw in the handset for free. I know for a fact that Rogers has most of their handsets crippled. Every rogers Pearl owner I know are not able to even install Opera mobile without cracking their phone.

As much as I’d prefer to be able to use Google Maps with the GPS unit when I’m travelling, it’s not killer. Just damned inconvenient. I realized that I actually rarely make calls lasting longer than a couple of minutes. It’s the mobile computing that I wanted, and EV-DO does that very well. I wanted to be able to take pictures and upload them to flickr right off the handset. At $90 (on top of the calling plan) for a 15mb plan from rogers, that is just not reasonable. With Telus it is.

There are rumblings and musings that Telus and Bell could make a switch to grab a piece of the half a billion dollars a year that rogers alone sucks in from international gsm roaming. The two share many towers as Telus was concentrated in the west and Bell in Ontario and Quebec.

On top of this, the two standards are slowly converging. As I mentioned earlier, GSM’s 3G uses cdma (the channel access method, not Qualcomm’s standard) and LTE will eventually allow an easeir switch. Telus and Bell will probably have to do it sooner, though. Within 3 years there will be a new carrier in Canada and they will almost guaranteed be GSM. This will only serve to make competition fiercer. If Telus does move, I will be one of the first with my hand up ready to be a beta tester if they want.