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What is GSM Wireless Technology? The Global System For Mobile Communication

Aug 13,2018 - (Free)

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The Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) is a digital mobile network standard that is currently the most widely used by mobile phone users in Europe and other parts of the world. According to the statistics provided by the GSM Association, about 80% of mobile phone users all over the world rely on the GSM network as their primary means of making wireless calls.


What is GSM Wireless Technology?

In Europe and other parts of the world, mobile phone users rely on the GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) network, which is a digital mobile network. Apart from that, GSM in wireless communication is the most widely used of the three technologies: time division multiple access (TDMA), GSM, and code-division multiple access (CDMA).

GSM is the most widely used cellular technology, followed by TDMA and CDMA. Although GSM appears to use a TDMA variant, its operation differs significantly from that of the other two. Each stream of user data is sent down a separate time slot in GSM, which digitizes and compresses the data. Both 900 MHz (Europe and Asia) and 1,800 MHz (United States) are supported.

It wasn’t until 1991 that GSM became commercially viable, when it was developed using TDMA technology.

Other technologies such as High-Speed Circuit-Switched Data (HSCSD), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Enhanced GSM Environment (EDGE) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) are all part of the evolution of wireless mobile telecommunications (UMTS).

what is GSM

GSM Technology Timeframe

GSM’s predecessors, such as AMPS in the United States and TACS in the United Kingdom, were built using analogue technology. However, these telecommunications systems were unable to grow as the number of users increased. A more efficient cellular technology that could also be used internationally was needed because of the shortcomings of these systems.

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) established a committee in 1982 to develop a European standard for digital telecommunications in order to accomplish this goal. For the new system, CEPT established a number of requirements, including the ability to support international roaming, high speech quality, hand-held device support, low service costs, flexibility to support new services, and ISDN capability.

The cell-based mobile radio system that was being developed at Bell Laboratories in the early 1970s gave birth to the idea that would later become known as GSM.

13 European countries signed a contract in 1987 to implement a standard for telecommunications. GSM became a requirement in Europe when the EU passed legislation mandating its use. European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) took over the GSM project from CEPT in 1989. (ETSI).

In 1991, Finland launched its first GSM-based mobile phone service. From 900 MHz to 1,800 MHz, the GSM standard frequency band was expanded. GSM accounted for 80% of the global mobile phone market in 2010.

Many telecommunications companies, such as Telstra in Australia, have shut down their GSM networks. Singapore’s 2G GSM network was shut down in 2017.

GSM Technology Milestones:

1982 Groupe Speciale Mobile established by to develop the pan-European cellular mobile system standards.
1985 Basic list of recommendations to be generated by the group was adopted.
1986 Field tests undertaken to prove which techniques should be adopted for the new system.
1987 TDMA approach adopted as the main access method for GSm. Frequency division is also used between channels, but time division each individual frequency channel.

Also in this year the Initial Memorandum of Understanding was signed by telecommunication operators from 12 member countries.

1988 GSM system validation undertaken
1989 ETSI, European telecommunications Standards Institute takes on responsibility for managing the GSM standards.
1990 Phase 1 of the GSM specifications released.
1991 Commercial launch of the GSM service
1993 Coverage of main roads GSM services start outside Europe
1995 Phase 2 of the GSM specifications released
2004 GSM subscriptions reach 1 billion. Announcement made at 3GSM in Cannes

GSM Network Structure

The GSM standards separate networks into the following four parts:

  1. Mobile Station
  2. Base Station Subsystem (BSS)
  3. Network and Switching Subsystem (NSS)
  4. Operations Support System (OSS)


Hardware is used to connect the mobile device to the Internet. The SIM card provides the network with information about the mobile user, such as his or her name and phone number.

The BSS serves as a conduit between the NSS and the cell phone. BTS and BSC are two major parts of the system, which are referred to as the “base station controller” (BSC). The radio transmitters, receivers, and antennas in the BTS communicate with the mobile phones, while the brains of the system reside in the BSC. A group of base transceiver stations is under the control of the BSC and communicates with it.

In order to provide cellular services, the NSS component of the GSM network architecture, also known as the core network, keeps track of the location of callers. The NSS is owned by mobile carriers. Mobile switching center (MSC) and home location register (HLR) are among the components of the National Security System (NSS) (HLR). In addition to routing calls and sending SMSes, these components also authenticate and store information about callers’ SIM cards.

Due to roaming agreements that many GSM network operators have with foreign operators, travelers often have the ability to continue using their phones even when they travel abroad. The cost of roaming can be drastically reduced while maintaining the same level of service when SIM cards with pre-configured home network access are replaced with those with metered local access.

Each segment of the network is comprised of a number of individual components. These individual parts come together to form a full-fledged cellular network. Each and every cellular service provider operates their own unique infrastructure, which includes all of these components.

Mobile Station

A person connects to the network through the Mobile Station, which is basically an access point. It’s a device with a Subscriber Identity Module, like an alarm system (SIM). The SIM connects the device to a specific subscriber, which lets the device connect to the Base Station Subsystem that is closest to it.

Base Station Subsystem (BSS)

Base Transceiver Stations and a Base Station Controller are both parts of the BSS. The Base Transceiver Stations have parts like receivers and antennas that let connected devices send and receive signals. The Base Station Controller lets the Base Transceiver Stations relay signals through the network using the Network and Switching Subsystem.

Network and Switching Subsystem (NSS)

The main parts of a 2G core network are called the Network and Switching Subsystem. With the Home Location Register (HLR), Authentication Center (AuC), Message Service Center (MSC), and Visitor Location Register (VLR), the NSS was originally used to help connect voice calls (VLR).

When the GPRS core network and its support nodes (GGSN and SGSN) were put in place, the NSS started to help with data connections as well.

Operations Support System (OSS)

The Operations Support System is a group of processes, data, applications, and tech that lets providers manage their network. The OSS can be used by carriers to:

  • Set up network components
  • Control and set up the services they provide
  • Executing system errors and managing the system’s state
  • Monitor and administering performance based on quality of service and quality of experience KPIs

Cellular networks with more features and security have similar structures, but they have extra parts to make them safer and more useful.

GSM Security Design

It’s possible for an attack to succeed even though GSM was designed to be secure wirelessly. GSM makes use of authentication methods such as challenge-response authentication, in which a user is required to provide a correct answer to a question, and a pre-shared key in the form of a password or passphrase in order to gain access.

Stream cyphers, which encrypt plaintext digits, are among GSM’s cryptographic security algorithms. There are three stream cyphers that keep a user’s conversation private: A5/1, A5/2, and A5/3 A5/1 and 2 are vulnerable to plaintext attacks because the algorithms for both have been publicly broken and published.

It uses GPRS (a packet-based communication service), such as web browsing, in order to transmit data. However, in 2011, the GPRS cyphers GEA1 and GEA2 were also cracked and made public. GPRS packet sniffing software has been made available for free download by researchers.

Features of GSM are :

  1. Improved spectrum efficiency
  2. International roaming
  3. Compatibility with integrated services digital network (ISDN)
  4. Support for new services.
  5. SIM phonebook management
  6. Fixed dialing number (FDN)
  7. Real-time clock with alarm management
  8. High-quality voice
  9. Uses encryption to make phone calls more secure
  10. Short message service (SMS)

GSM vs. CDMA vs. LTE

The key differences between GSM, CDMA, and LTE (long-term evolution) cellular-wireless communications are the underlying technology and business objectives. GSM is the oldest. Developed and adopted as a standard in Europe, GSM used the processor/chip technologies available at the time to encode and decode data.

Except for the US and a few South American countries, mobile operators used 2G GSM for a while. Discontinuance of analogue AMPS systems drove these exceptions. They evaluated GSM’s economies of scale for their networks to provide interim compatibility. Carriers used D-AMPS (Digital-Advanced Mobile Phone Service), an evolution of the original 2GL D-AMPS standard, IS-54, from the Electronics Industries Association/Telecommunications Industry Association. But it became clear that TDMA protocols couldn’t support rapidly expanding cellular services. This led to CDMA protocols.

CdmaOne (ITU IS-95) became the CDMA digital cellular standard in 1993, gaining popularity in countries with Analog AMPS systems. However, decoding and coding CDMA required significantly more compute power than decoding and coding TDMA. In the end, CDMA phones cost more than GSM phones.

Then came cellular technology. GSM brought GPRS, which led to EDGE, and CDMA. One to ANSI-2000 1xRTT. That led to EV-DO. 3GPP adopted Wide-Band CDMA (W-CDMA) protocols for 3G UMTS due to their efficiency.

While 4G LTE is a GSM technology, it is a significant upgrade over 3G. But it doesn’t allow for traditional phone calls. VoLTE uses specialized voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for regular phone calls.

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), the LTE encoding protocol, combined CDMA and GSM technologies. This encoding protocol is used in WiMAX and WiFi networks.

As 5G becomes more common, new encoding protocols are expected. It’s too early to tell if 5G will be a gradual evolution or a technological revolution in the telecom industry. In either case, most telecommunications industry observers expect global and dramatic effects.

Which is more popular, GSM or CDMA?

GSM — and thus its descendants 5G New Radio (NR), UMTS, and LTE — is more popular than CDMA. GSM-based technologies are used in almost every country.

CDMA, on the other hand, is only used in ten countries. Carriers will also shut down nearly all CDMA networks in the next five years.

In the U.S., GSM is used by which networks?

Here are some GSM networks in the United States:

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile USA Inc.
  • Telecom North America Mobile Inc.
  • Union Wireless
  • Viaero Wireless
  • Cellular One
  • Cordova Wireless
  • Corr Wireless
  • NEP Wireless
  • Pine Cellular
  • Plateau Wireless
  • West Central Wireless
  • XIT Communications
  • Westlink
  • DTC Wireless
  • Epic PCS
  • Earthtones
  • Fuzion Mobile
  • i-Wireless
  • Indigo Wireless
  • Immix

GSM’s many benefits include the following:

1. We might be able to offer a mobile set and base stations with GSM technology that are more affordable.

2. It increases the productive capacity of the spectrum.

3. Both voice and data transmissions over GSM networks are of a high quality.

4. Both GSM and ISDN are compatible with one another (Integrated Services Digital Network).

What are some of the drawbacks of the GSM system?

Despite the fact that GSM is the technology of choice for today’s telecommunications ecosystems, it does not come without its share of drawbacks. The following is a list of some of the drawbacks of GSM:

Interference from electronic devices: It is common knowledge that the pulse-transmission technology that GSM uses can cause interference with electronic devices such as hearing aids. Because mobile phones cause electromagnetic interference in certain locations, such as airports, gas stations, and hospitals, those locations require customers to turn off their phones.

Bandwidth lag: Multiple users have access to the same bandwidth when using GSM technologies, which can sometimes result in significant latency as more users join the network.

Transferring data at a slow rate: GSM has a data transfer rate that is only slightly above average. Users will need to upgrade to a device that supports a more recent version of GSM in order to take advantage of higher data transfer rates.

Repeaters: Repeaters are required to be installed by carriers using GSM technologies in order to increase coverage.


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