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GSM in 219 countries with over 5 billion users

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The Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) family of technologies has provided the world with mobile communications since 1991. In over 20 years of development, GSM has been continually enhanced to provide platforms that deliver an increasingly broad range of mobile services as demand grows.

The Global System for Mobile telecommunications Association (GSMA) noted that where the industry started with plain voice calls, it now has a powerful platform capable of supporting mobile broadband and multimedia services.

GSM is now used in 219 countries and territories serving more than five billion people and providing travellers with access to mobile services wherever they go. In Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), GSM technology has 99.8 per cent penetration. GSM is an open, digital cellular technology used for transmitting mobile voice and data services.

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The technology supports voice calls and data transfer speeds of up to 9.6 kbps, together with the transmission of SMS (Short Message Service). GSM operates in the 900MHz and 1.8GHz bands in Europe and the 1.9GHz and 850MHz bands in the US. GSM services are also transmitted via 850MHz spectrum in Australia, Canada and many Latin American countries.

The use of harmonised spectrum across most of the globe, combined with GSM’s international roaming capability, allows travellers to access the same mobile services at home and abroad. GSM enables individuals to be reached via the same mobile number in up to 219 countries.

Terrestrial GSM networks now cover more than 90 per cent of the world’s population. GSM satellite roaming has also extended service access to areas where terrestrial coverage is not available.

According to GSMA, the body, which represents the interest of mobile operators globally, members of GSM family include GPRS, EDGE, 3G/WCDMA, HSPA, LTE, and GSM Roaming.
The GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is a very widely-deployed wireless data service, available now with most GSM networks.

GPRS offers throughput rates of up to 40 kbps, enabling mobile handsets to access online services at a similar speed to a dial-up modem, but with the convenience of being able to connect from almost anywhere.

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GPRS enables people to enjoy advanced, feature-rich data services, such as e-mail on the move, multimedia messages, social networking and location-based services.The international telecoms body explained that the GSM networks upgraded with Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) technology, and can provide up to three times the data capacity of GPRS.

Using EDGE, operators can handle three times more subscribers than GPRS, triple their data rate per subscriber, or add extra capacity to their voice communications.EDGE enables the delivery of more demanding mobile services, such as the downloading of video and music clips, multimedia messaging, full web browsing and e-mail on the move.

EDGE uses the same structure as today’s GSM networks, which allows it to be overlaid directly onto an existing GSM network. For many existing GSM/GPRS networks, EDGE is a simple software-upgrade.

On the 3G/WCDMA, GSMA said it was developed by the global GSM community to support third-generation (3G) mobile services. It pointed out that WCDMA is the designated air interface for one of the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU’s) family of 3G mobile communications systems. WCDMA is used in the radio leg of both UMTS and HSPA networks.

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As well as supporting conventional voice, text and MMS services, WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) can carry data at high speeds, enabling mobile operators to deliver richer mobile multimedia services such as music-on-demand, TV and video streaming and broadband Internet access.

Standardised by 3GPP, HSPA is the set of technologies that enables 3G/WCDMA operators to upgrade their networks to run at broadband speeds. HSPA includes HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) and HSPA+.

Unlike many other mobile broadband technologies, HSPA supports the very efficient provision of voice services in combination with mobile broadband data services.

The Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a mobile network technology that is being deployed by mobile operators on both the GSM and the CDMA technology paths. Depending on the spectrum available, live LTE networks can deliver very fast data speeds of up to 100Mbps in the downlink and 50Mbps in the uplink.

Designed to be backwards-compatible with GSM and HSPA, GSMA said LTE incorporates Multiple in Multiple out (MIMO) technology, the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) air interface in the downlink and Single Carrier FDMA in the uplink. This combination provides high levels of spectral efficiency and network performance, coupled with high network capacity and low latency. LTE will support spectrum channel bandwidths from 1.4 MHz to 20 MHz and can operate in both paired spectrum (in FDD mode) and unpaired spectrum (in TDD mode).

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