GSM History

During the early 1980s, analog cellular telephone systems were experiencing rapid growth in Europe,
particularly in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, but also in France and Germany.
Each country developed its own system, which was incompatible with everyone else’s in equipment and operation.
This was an undesirable situation, because not only was the mobile equipment limited to operation within national boundaries,
which in a unified Europe were increasingly unimportant, but there was also a very limited market for each type of equipment,
so economies of scale and the subsequent savings could not be realized.

The Europeans realized this early on, and in 1982 the Conference of European Posts and Telegraphs (CEPT) formed a study group
called the Groupe Sp?cial Mobile (GSM) to study and develop a pan-European public land mobile system.
The proposed system had to meet certain criteria:

Good subjective speech quality
Low terminal and service cost
Support for international roaming
Ability to support handheld terminals
Support for range of new services and facilities
Spectral efficiency
ISDN compatibility

Pan-European means European-wide. ISDN throughput at 64Kbs was never envisioned, indeed,
the highest rate a normal GSM network can achieve is 9.6kbs.

Europe saw cellular service introduced in 1981, when the Nordic Mobile Telephone System or NMT450 began operating in Denmark,
Sweden, Finland, and Norway in the 450 MHz range. It was the first multinational cellular system.
In 1985 Great Britain started using the Total Access Communications System or TACS at 900 MHz.
Later, the West German C-Netz, the French Radiocom 2000, and the Italian RTMI/RTMS helped make up Europe’s nine analog
incompatible radio telephone systems. Plans were afoot during the early 1980s, however,
to create a single European wide digital mobile service with advanced features and easy roaming.
While North American groups concentrated on building out their robust but increasingly fraud plagued
and featureless analog network, Europe planned for a digital future. Link to my mobile telephone history series

In 1989, GSM responsibility was transferred to the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI),
and phase I of the GSM specifications were published in 1990. Commercial service was started in mid-1991,
and by 1993 there were 36 GSM networks in 22 countries [6]. Although standardized in Europe,
GSM is not only a European standard. Over 200 GSM networks (including DCS1800 and PCS1900) are operational in 110 countries
around the world. In the beginning of 1994, there were 1.3 million subscribers worldwide [18],
which had grown to more than 55 million by October 1997. With North America making a delayed entry into the GSM field
with a derivative of GSM called PCS1900, GSM systems exist on every continent,
and the acronym GSM now aptly stands for Global System for Mobile communications.

According to the GSM Association as of 2002, here are the current GSM statistics:

No. of Countries/Areas with GSM System (October 2001) – 172
GSM Total Subscribers – 590.3 million (to end of September 2001)
World Subscriber Growth – 800.4 million (to end of July 2001)
SMS messages sent per month – 23 Billion (to end of September 2001)
SMS forecast to end December 2001 – 30 Billion per month
GSM accounts for 70.7% of the World’s digital market and 64.6% of the World’s wireless market

The developers of “” GSM chose an unproven (at the time) digital system,
as opposed to the then-standard analog cellular systems like AMPS in the United States and TACS in the United Kingdom.
They had faith that advancements in compression algorithms and digital signal processors would allow the
fulfillment of the original criteria and the continual improvement of the system in terms of quality and cost.
The over 8000 pages of GSM recommendations try to allow flexibility and competitive innovation among suppliers,
but provide enough standardization to guarantee proper interworking between the components of the system.
This is done by providing functional and interface descriptions for each of the functional entities defined in the system.

The United States suffered no variety of incompatible systems as in the different countries of Europe.
Roaming from one city or state to another wasn’t difficult . Your mobile usually worked as long as there was coverage.
Little desire existed to design an all digital system when the present one was working well and proving popular.
To illustrate that point, the American cellular phone industry grew from less than 204,000 subscribers in 1985 to 1,600,000 in 1988.
And with each analog based phone sold, chances dimmed for an all digital future.
To keep those phones working (and producing money for the carriers) any technological system advance
would have to accommodate them.

GSM was an all digital system that started new from the beginning. It did not have to accommodate older analog mobile telephones or their limitations. American digital cellular, first called IS-54 and then IS-136, still accepts the earliest analog phones. American cellular networks evolved slowly, dragging a legacy of underperforming equipment with it. Advanced fraud prevention, for example, was designed in later for AMPS, whereas GSM had such measures built in from the start. GSM was a revolutionary system because it was fully digital from the beginning.