What is GSM ? What GSM Enables for Users in Australia

What is GSM ?

Commercially released in 1991, GSM is short for Global System Mobile Communications. GSM is the core communication standard behind all modern mobile phones, including the ones used in Australia. Over the last 2 decades, the technology has evolved at an increasing rate, first turning all wireless communications digital and then leapfrogging itself on data speeds.

In this article, Whatphone explains how we got from 1991 to the first data capabilities over wireless networks – GPRS.

If you’d like to know more, including how we got to 3G & finally LTE, the current best in class wireless network speed then check out this article.

GSM Launch – The World’s Standard System

GSM is the most popular mobile phone technology in the world. It is the standard protocol that is used by cellular networks or telcos such as Optus, Vodafone and Telstra. Originally, GSM was established as Groupe Spécial Mobile, a team responsible for research on mobile communication mechanisms.

GSM works on a  combination of TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access ) and FDMA (Frequency Division Multiple Access) methodologies. TDMA divides the network channel in to single time bits which are then allotted to data for a single, or multiple users. FDMA, divides the frequency band into parts and allocate it to each mobile phone towers.

GSM Building Blocks

A key component of the GSM standard is the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card, tied to your mobile phone carrier. Having an agreed upon method of connecting a device to any wireless network, offers people the benefit of flexibly changing from one mobile phone provider to another, or between phones on the same operator. Since they ( the operators ) all use the same SIM, there is no need to buy new hardware or, if people are staying with the same provider, to re-activate the service.

GSM is the framework ‘glue’ that the industry uses to tie it’s components together. Network components from manufacturers like Nokia ( yes, they help build the network for the telcos as well as manufacturing the Lumia series ! ), hardware from phone manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and Apple, SIMs from local Australian manufacturers including G&D all work together because they meet GSM standards.

GSM Enables Global Roaming

We take it for granted but one of the most beneficial things GSM offers is roaming to other GSM enabled countries. Currently, 690 mobile phone carriers across 213 countries operate on GSM. GSM operates at / on standard MHz ( or MegaHertz ) radio frequencies. In Europe, Asia ( including Australia ) and Japan, the frequency bands 900 MHz and 1800 MHz are used. In the U.S., 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Modern day mobile phones tend to operate on many, if not all of these frequencies. You might notice that when you buy them : Many phones are marked as ‘Tri band’ or ‘Quad band.’ Tri and quad band devices are more likely to work when you’re overseas because they’re designed to work in these other territories and cover many of those frequencies.

What is GPRS ? GPRS Offers Data Over GSM Connections

Over the years, another technology emerged which extended the capabilities of GSM and took the first step towards providing the data we all take for granted on our mobiles these days.

GPRS or General Packet Radio Service was a software overlay on top of the GSM standard. It made services like the internet access and e-mail possible on phones by putting in place packet-data technology. GPRS is slow by today’s standards, with data transfer speeds of up to 115 kbps at that time, with an average of 40 to 50 kbps. That’s a fraction, maybe 5%-10% of what you’ll be used to with 3G and a rounding error on LTE speeds. With GPRS, users can talk on the phone and at the same time, browse the web.

After GPRS, data just kept getting quicker. If you’d like to know more you can click here to find out about Australia’s 3G and LTE networks.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.