GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications

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More than 6 billion people worldwide use the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) family of technologies. GSM is the most widely used wireless technology in the world, available in more than 219 countries and territories worldwide, with a market share of more than 90 percent. 
GSM market share has grown exponentially over recent years. Although it took 12 years for GSM to achieve 1 billion customers (February 2004), it was only another 2.5 years before GSM subscribers passed the 2 billion mark (June 2006), less than two years to exceed 3 billion customers (April 2008) and reached more than 6 billion in 2012.
GSM has quickly become the fastest-growing wireless technology in North America and Latin America and the Caribbean.  GSM’s share of market in the Western Hemisphere is 79 percent with more than 830 million customer connections.
GSM is the legacy network of the evolution to the third generation (3G) technologies Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS), also known as WCDMA, and High Speed Packet Access (HSPA). Commonly referred to as the GSM family of technologies, the following diagram represents the evolution from second generation (2G) GSM and General Packet Radio System (GPRS) to 3G Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution (EDGE), UMTS and HSPA. 



Horizontal GSM Family Evolution.jpg



The oldest member of the GSM family of technologies is GSM itself; a digital or Personal Communications System (PCS), 2G technology that provides voice and circuit-switched data services.
There are several reasons why GSM is so popular among operators and their customers: 
  • Clear voice quality, which helps make GSM a viable alternative to wireline telephony for consumers and businesses.
  • International roaming with service available in more than 219 countries, the most of any wireless technology by a wide margin. As a result, users enjoy the convenience of being reachable with their GSM devices and phone numbers when traveling abroad, as well as the ability to access messaging and other advanced services that they use in their home markets. Partnerships within the GSM community help to keep users' roaming charges affordable and allow for any roaming charges to be automatically billed to their accounts back in their home markets. Roaming is particularly important for operators for two reasons: first, it drives a significant amount of revenue; and second, roaming support helps operators attract enterprise customers.
  • Spectral flexibility, with network infrastructure and user devices available for numerous spectrum bands. Tri- and quad-band GSM phones are common, reducing the chances that users will ever travel to an area without at least one GSM network to which they can connect.
  • Tight security, including inherent protection from eavesdropping and hacking. This helps make GSM voice and data an attractive alternative to analog cellular and Wi-Fi in the eyes of users, particularly enterprises.
  • Data support, including SMS and web browsing.
  • Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, which allow customers to buy a new or additional phone, or a GSM PC Card modem, and instantly transfer their settings, preferences and contacts to the other device.
  • Product selection. The GSM family’s 90 percent worldwide market share makes it a popular choice for handset manufacturers and application developers. As a result, GSM customers enjoy the largest selection of handsets, PC card modems and other devices, as well as innovative voice and data services. The GSM family’s market share also translates into large volumes of network infrastructure and user devices, which drive down costs. For operators, those savings mean that with GSM, they can price their devices and services more competitively than with any other wireless technology. GSM's market share also attracts vendors and application developers, whose innovative content, services and devices help operators attract and retain customers.
  • Research and development is heavily supported for the entire GSM family of technologies due to the scope and scale of 6 billion customers worldwide. 

GSM has a straightforward, cost-effective migration path to 3G through GPRS, EDGE and UMTS-HSPA, as well as beyond 3G via the HSPA Evolution (HSPA+), LTE and System Architecture Evolution (SAE) initiatives. Each step in the GSM-based migration path leverages the network infrastructure deployed for the previous steps and is backwards compatible. For example, a UMTS phone can provide voice and data service when connected to a GSM network. This family of technologies also provides a viable, flexible 3G migration path for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) operators. In fact, the majority of TDMA operators have already migrated to GSM and many CDMA operators have likewise migrated.