The Basics: Understanding Verizon's Network Technologies

On many occasions, we’ve been witness to confusion concerning the type of technology used by Verizon Wireless - some of which is also used by Sprint, MetroPCS, and regional wireless service providers.  Of this site’s internal visitor statistics, we often see people searching for information about the wireless technology being used by Verizon.  The information is actually rather simple, but the common consumer is probably confused by terms such as “1X” and “EVDO.”

Follow us after the break to better understand the technology that Verizon (and others) use, and what some of the technical jargon really means.


What is CDMA?

First and foremost, a distinction needs to be made.  The technology used by Verizon, Sprint, and others is reffered to as “CDMA,” while the technology used by AT&T, T-Mobile, and others is known as “GSM.”

We could bore you with the details of what each abbreviation means, but we won’t.  A more technical explanation will come in the future.  For now, the single most important distinction to remember is this: CDMA and GSM, while having evoloved from a common technological ancestor and perform the same essential task (comminication), the two technologies are so different that there’s no chance of “tweaking a setting” to make a GSM phone work on a CDMA network.  That is why an unlocked AT&T phone would never work on the Verizon network - no matter how much you try to make the two compatible, you will eventually run into the fact that they simply aren’t.

Having said that, let’s talk about terminology.

Terms you may hear about Verizon phones, or see on your phone display:

EVDO revision A

In a nutshell, most of those terms mean about the same thing.

1X is the term used to identify Verizon’s second-generation network.  1X is what you use when you make a phone call on the Verizon network.  That’s right, you’re making a call on a “2G” network.  But that’s ok - 3G wouldn’t give you any different signal, experience, or call quality.  It’s used because it’s there - and it’s been there for more than a decade.  And it works.  Or, as many Verizon users would attest, it works well.  And not only does it work for voice, it serves as a backbone for Verizon’s text system, and a backup to it’s 3G data services.

EVDO - basically, you can take EV, EVDO Revision A, and 3G and throw all of it into this category.  EVDO is, quite plainly, the third-generation data network technology used by Verizon (and others).  Today, Verizon phones show “3G” on their displays.  But a couple years back, that same signal was called EV, which was simply short for EVDO.

When EVDO first came out, the speeds were a vast improvement over 1X, it’s predecessor.  But upload speeds were a tenth of the download speed.  When the upload speeds were raised to come close to the download speed, they referred to that upgraded technology as EVDO Revision A, or commonly called EVDO Rev. A.  At the end of the day, regardless of what you call “EVDO,” it’s all one 3G technology.  Verizon upgraded it’s system to the higest data speeds long ago, so when someone referrs to “Rev. A,” they’re simply talking about Verizon’s current third-generation network.

1XEV - a simple on-screen consolidation of 1X and EV signals, which ARE two different signals coming from the tower.  The 3G data network is only used for data, while the 2G network (1X) is used primarily for voice and text, and as a fallback when 3G is too busy or out of range.  At first, most phones showed “1XEV” on screen, but later phones separated the two sets of bars, thereby splitting the term as well.  Today, most phones show “3G,” unless only 1X is available.

4G and LTE - for Verizon, one and the same.  For other companies, not the same.  Sprint decided not to use the network technology known as LTE for their 4G products.  And while AT&T and T-Mobile are slated to transition to LTE technology, they currently market networks that were previously referred to as “3G” as their new 4G technology, rather than addinbg “revision” terms to the original.

LTE is, however, an evolution from the GSM technology - a departure for Verizon, who has stuck with CDMA for more than a decade.  Because of this, future 4G Verizon phones will actually be using 1X for voice, 4G for data (if available), and 3G for secondary data.

The Short, Short Version

If you see 1X, that’s for voice calls, sending or receiving texts, or a lack of 3G data signal.
If you see anything else, that’s for data.

Common Questions

A common question we hear is, “will future 4G phones be able to fall back on 1x?”

The answer is, for the time being, that 4G LTE phones for Verizon will always use 1X for voice.  That will change if Verizon and its partners move to a VOIP system for LTE, which is quite possible.  In fact, such a use is currently being tested, and could come sooner, rather than later.

“Why do I see 1X on my phone?”

On some models, if you see 1X you are probably in the midst of a call.  Or your phone might be sending a text.   Or, it’s quite possible that the only time you see it is when the 3G network is simply unavailable to you (range, signal quality, system capacity, etc).

The bottom line is, it’s ok to see 1X on your display.  If you’re surfing the web and it’s stuck on 1X, you’ll definitely notice a speed reduction, but seeing 1X in itself is not a problem with your phone, it’s just a sign of the temporary conditions existing between your phone and the tower serving it.

“Does 4G hand off to 3G, and vice-versa?”

The quick answer is, in most cases future 4G phones will be able to change between 4G and 3G, though there may be a noticeable pause while the adjustment occurs.

“Should I avoid buying a new 3G phone so I don’t lose coverage?”

No, if you really want a phone, and it’s a 3G model, don’t hesitate if it’s the right choice for you.  Verizon expects to be supporting it’s 1X and 3G networks for as many as ten years, and even if/when they turn off the old technology, they will give you a reasonable time frame until the change, and will likely extend a decent equipment offer to change over with them.

So there you have it!  That’s the basic run-down of Verizon’s technology offerings.  If nothing else, remember that the terminology isn’t as critical as the function those technologies serve with your service.  I could give you lots of jargon to get bored with, but in the end all you need to know is what each of the three networks on Verizon will be used for.

If ever you have questions, or desire more information, simply contact us!