20 years on, GSM is firmly grounded in mobile space


Not long ago, there was talk of GSM
being on its way out. Yet time and again, GSM has proven its popularity as the
world’s most-connected network, having the maximum number of users. The GSM
Association says that today, 80 percent of the world’s population is covered by
GSM networks.


July 1, 1991 marked the start of a
new era in digital communications, with the first-ever GSM call being conducted
GSM on a commercial network between Finland’s former prime minister Harri
Holkeri and vice mayor of the city of Tampere Kaarina Suonio. The first GSM
network was built by Telenokia and Siemens – today’s Nokia Siemens Networks
for the Finnish operator Radiolinja, now operating under the name Elisa.
Jan Wäreby was also present, calling then – general director of Televerket,
Sweden’s former national telecommunications agency, now part of TeliaSonera.


During the call, Harri Holkeri and
Kaarina Suonio discussed the benefits of the new, digital, GSM technology,
including superior voice quality and security, and the fact that the phone’s
identity is in the SIM card, making it easy for consumers to choose the product
they like. The base stations had been set up, but only a limited area had
network coverage, and most significantly, there were hardly any GSM phones


The Global System for Mobile communications
(GSM) was adopted in 1987 as the European standard for digital mobile
technology. This second generation mobile technology could carry data as well
as voice traffic. GSM’s high-quality voice calls, easy international roaming
and support for new services such as text messaging (SMS) laid the foundations
for a worldwide boom in mobile phone use.


In the following years, the number
of GSM
subscribers grew beyond all predictions. It reached more than 500 million in
the first decade to 2001. Today’s 838 GSM networks in 234 countries and
independent territories around the world have more than 4.4 billion subscriptions.
GSM is still growing fast, with 1 million new GSM subscriptions added every


which came much later, evolved as a data-perfect network, the only competition
to GSM. However, while the use of CDMA which began in the US and spread to
other nations including India, was no match for GSM in Europe, where the latter
remained dominant.


GSM has seen the migration of 1G to
3G, and has supported all of these through voice and data. However, today, with
the widespread movement to 4G and LTE,
there is some fear that GSM will no longer be able to support the huge amounts
of data traffic, while CDMA provides for natural evolution to LTE.


However, this is not a proven fact
yet, and some experts still believe that GSM will be around for long, and will
not be overtaken by CDMA. GSM continues to evolve and will be here in the
coming decades together with 3G and LTE as an essential building block of the
mobile broadband. We see continued GSM business opportunities in Single RAN
Advanced capable hardware modernizations, high-quality voice capacity upgrades
as well as smart device, machine-to-machine and high definition voice
enhancements,” said Pekka Soini, head of corporate development office at Nokia
Siemens Networks.


The GSM family of technologies,
standardized by 3GPP, has evolved further to EDGE, 3G and LTE. Third generation
3G WCDMA networks have higher data speeds and more capacity for mobile
broadband services. GSM, 3G
and LTE are evolutionary technologies, with networks being built and expanded
according to the needs of coverage and capacity, with seamless interworking
between the technologies.


India, which has seen the only two
CDMA operators – Reliance Communications
and Tata Indicom, emerge with GSM networks gradually – which proved to garner a
much higher number of subscribers for them than on their CDMA network, is also
proof that the GSM network, 20 years on, is here to stay.


By Beryl M