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GPRS: General Packet Radio Service

General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a packet-data technology that allows GSM operators to
launch wireless data services, such as e-mail and Internet access. As a result, GPRS provides
operators with the ability to use data to drive additional revenue. GPRS is often called a 2.5G
technology because it is a GSM operator's first step toward third generation (3G) and a first step
in wireless data services.

Although GPRS is a data-only technology, it helps improve GSM voice capacity. When an
operator deploys GPRS, it also can upgrade to a vocoder, a new type of voice coder that turns
voice into digital signals before they pass across the wireless network. The vocoder uses
Adaptive Multi-rate speech transcoding (AMR) technology, which can handle twice as many
simultaneous voice calls as a network that uses the old vocoder. As a result, GPRS allows GSM
operators to accommodate additional voice traffic without the expense of acquiring additional
spectrum.

GPRS supports peak download data rates of up to 115 kbps, with average speeds of 40 to 50
kbps, which is comparable to other 2.5G technologies, such as CDMA2000 1x. GPRS speeds are
fast enough for applications such as Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and a web browsing
experience comparable to a wired dial-up modem. GPRS also allows customers to maintain a
data session while answering a phone call, which is a unique and exclusive feature to GSM.
GPRS also provides an always-on data connection, so users do not have to log on each time
they want data access. The packet architecture also means that users pay only for the data itself
rather than for the airtime used to establish a connection and download data.

GPRS is the most widely supported packet-data wireless technology in the world, and as of May
2009, more than 700 operators in 200 countries launched GPRS according to Informa Telecoms
& Media. Like GSM, which offers a global customer base of more than 3.8 billion, GPRS
supports international roaming in more than 180 countries so customers can access data
services whether they are at home or abroad. When users travel to areas that have not yet been
upgraded to GPRS, they still can access many data services via circuit-switched GSM.
The significant global operator and user adoption of GPRS has created a customer base that has
attracted dozens of device manufacturers. As a result, thousands of models of GPRS phones and
PC card modems are currently available. In fact, virtually all GSM model devices have GPRS.

GPRS builds on the GSM network platform, so operators can leverage their existing
infrastructure, such as base stations and Mobile Switching Centers (MSCs). The GPRS core
network is based on Internet Protocol (IP) standards, which make it ideal for providing wireless
access to other IP-based networks, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and corporate
Local Area Networks (LANs). The GPRS core also serves as the foundation for all subsequent
steps toward 3G. For example, when operators deploy EDGE and UMTS-HSPA, they reuse
GPRS core elements such as Gateway GPRS Support Nodes (GGSNs); this design ensures that
each step in the migration to 3G is smooth and cost-effective.

GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications

More than 3.8 billion people worldwide used the Global System for Mobile Communications
(GSM) family of technologies as of May 2009. 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 89 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), and less than two years to exceed 3 billion
customers (April 2008). Informa Telecoms & Media expects GSM family of technology
connections to surpass 5 billion by 2013.

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 70 percent
with more than half a billion 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.
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, as of the first
quarter of 2009, 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 the 450,
850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz bands. That is the widest variety of any wireless
technology. 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 89 percent worldwide market share (4Q 2008)
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 innovativevoice 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 3.8 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 100 percent backward
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.

EDGE: Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution

Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) is a third-generation (3G) technology that
enables high-speed packet-data services such as Internet access and streaming multimedia.
EDGE supports peak theoretical network data rates of 474 kbps, with average throughput of 70 to
130 kbps on both the downlink and the uplink (forthcoming versions, known as EDGE Evolution,
are expected to support peak download speeds of up to 1894 kbps using eight timeslots per
carrier and two carriers for the downlink). The average rates are fast enough to support a wide
range of data services, including streaming audio and video, fast Internet access and large file
downloads. EDGE also can support Push-to-Talk (PTT) services.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which sets telecom standards for worldwide
use, approved EDGE as a 3G standard in July 2000. In July 2003, the world’s first commercial
EDGE network launched. As of December 2008, there were more than 413 commercial EDGE
networks operating in 177 countries representing more than 75 percent of all GSM operators
worldwide. Reasons for this worldwide expansion include:

• EDGE is a relatively straightforward, cost-effective network upgrade for most GSM


operators. EDGE deployments usually require only software and additional channel cards
for the existing GSM-GPRS network infrastructure. This design reduces the cost of
deploying EDGE, so operators are better able to price their EDGE services competitively
yet profitably.
• EDGE does not require operators to acquire additional spectrum. Instead, it can be
deployed in today’s most widely used bands, including 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.
The ability to deploy EDGE in its existing spectrum means that an operator can launch
3G services quickly, in more markets and at a lower cost than technologies that require
new spectrum.
About two-thirds of UMTS operators also offer EDGE, particularly in rural areas as EDGE is a
cost-effective way to provide broadband data services in areas that have not yet been upgraded
to UMTS or that are too sparsely populated to justify UMTS. As a result, when UMTS customers
travel to areas with EDGE, they still have the benefit of mobile data access.

Due to the minimal incremental cost of including EDGE capability in GSM network deployment,
virtually all new GSM infrastructure deployments are also EDGE-capable and nearly all new mid-
to high-level GSM devices also include EDGE radio technology. Therefore, EDGE is always
available as a fallback on UMTS-HSPA devices. As a member of the GSM family of technologies,
EDGE offers international roaming. EDGE is backward compatible with GSM and GPRS, so
when a user travels to an area where EDGE is not yet available or is not supported by roaming
agreements, he or she still can access many voice and data services. As a result, users enjoy the
convenience of being reachable with their EDGE device when traveling in more than 219
countries (1Q 2009), as well as the ability to access messaging and other mobile data services
that they use in their home market.

Like GPRS, EDGE provides an always-on data connection, so users do not have to log on each
time they want data access. The packet architecture also means that users only pay for the data
itself rather than for the airtime used to establish a connection and download data.

Although EDGE is a data technology, it also helps boost the number of voice calls that a network
can handle simultaneously by sending data up to 150 percent more efficiently than GPRS. With
EDGE transmitting more data into the same amount of bandwidth, the voice-coding, or vocoder,
technology in the GSM voice network can be upgraded to a version that increases voice capacity
by 15 to 20 percent.

It is important to note that EDGE technology is continuously improving. For example, Release 4
significantly reduced EDGE latency (network round trip time) — from the typical 500 to 600
milliseconds (ms) to about 300 ms. Operators also continue to make improvements in how EDGE
functions, including network optimizations that boost capacity and reduce latency. The impact for
users is that EDGE networks today are more robust, with applications functioning more
responsively. Evolved EDGE in Release 7 and also in Release 8 introduces significant new
features.

Understanding 1G vs. 2G vs. 3G vs. 4G

The following summary explains the differences between 1G vs. 2G vs. 2.5G vs. 3G vs. 3.5G vs. 4G.

What is 1G?
First generation refers to the analog “brick phones” and “bag phones” as they were first introduced for
mobile cellular technology. Cell phones began with 1G and signify first generation wireless analog
technology standards that originated in the 1980s. 1G was replaced by 2G wireless digital standards.

What is 2G?
2G signifies second generation wireless digital technology. Fully digital 2G networks have replaced analog
1G, which originated in the 1980s. 2G networks first commercially began on the Global System for Mobil
Communications, or GSM, standard. 2G on GSM standards were first used in commercial practice in 1991
by Radiolinja, a Finnish GSM operator that was founded on September 19, 1988. Radiolinja is now part of
Elisa, which was known in the 1990s as the Helsinki Telephone Company.

In addition to the GSM protocol, 2G also utilizes various other digital protocols, including CDMA, TDMA,
iDEN and PDC. GSM is based on TDMA.

What is 2.5G?
2.5G wireless technology is a stepping stone that bridged 2G to 3G wireless technology and is sometimes
used to describe those evolved technologies that were first considered as being 2G. While 2G and 3G have
been officially defined as wireless standards by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2.5G has
not and was created only for the purposes of marketing.

As an interim step up from 2G, 2.5G has seen some of the advances inherent in 3G networks (including
packet-switched systems). The evolution from 2G to 3G has ushered in faster and higher-capacity data
transmission. Several technologies that have been considered as the evolutionary step to 3G
include EDGE (part of the GSM family) and CDMA 2000 1X; at times these technologies are called 3G as
they both meet some of the ITU requirements for 3G standards.

What is 3G?
3G is the third generation of mobile phone standards and technology. 3G supersedes 2G technology and
precedes 4G technology. 3G technologies have enabled faster data transmission speeds, greater network
capacity and more advanced network services. In May 2001, NTT DoCoMo (Japan) launched the first pre-
commercial 3G network – branded as FOMA. Following the first pre-commercial launch, NTT DoCoMo again
made history on October 1, 2001, with the first commercial launch of 3G in Japan.

UMTS-HSPA, the world’s leading 3G technology, accounted for 464 million subscriptions as of December
2009, and, according to forecasts by Informa Telecoms & Media, and will reach nearly 1 billion subscriptions
by December 2011 and 2 billion subscriptions by December 2013.

By 2014, UMTS-HSPA and LTE 3G technologies are expected to account for 84 percent of global 3G
subscriptions or 2.8 billion subscribers, compared to 528 million CDMA EV-DO subscriptions and 89 million
WiMAX subscriptions.

What is 3.5G?
Similar to the 2.5G acronym, the reference to 3.5G is not an officially recognized standard by the ITU. It is
an interim or evolutionary step to the next generation of cellular technology that will be known as IMT-
Advanced according to definitions by the ITU. IMT-Advanced will comprise the fourth generation of cell
phone technology. The acronym 3.5G is also known as “beyond 3G.” 3G Americas does not use the terms
3.5G (or 2.5G) in respect of the official definitions provided by the ITU. The technologies within the GSM
family that are considered as beyond 3G include HSPA+ and LTE .

What is 4G?
4G is the term used to refer to the forthcoming fourth generation of mobile wireless services that is currently
being defined by the ITU. Its Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is in the process of establishing an agreed
upon and globally accepted definition of 4G wireless systems using the name IMT-Advanced. Current 3G
systems have been established through ITU’s previous project on International Mobile Telecommunications
2000 (IMT-2000).

The ITU has developed requirements for a technology to be considered IMT-Advanced, which is the next-
generation wireless technology. Submissions were made to the ITU in the 4Q 2009, and in 2010, the ITU is
expected to have reviewed those candidate technologies for approval. Just as data transmission speeds
have increased from 2G to 3G, the leap from 3G to IMT-Advanced (or so-called 4G) again promises even
higher data rates than those existing in previous generations. 4G promises voice, data and high-quality
multimedia in real-time (streamed) anytime and anywhere.

In Release 10, 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) will address the IMT-Advanced requirements in a
version of LTE, called LTE-Advanced, for which specifications could become available in 2011. WiMAX will
address the IMT-Advanced requirements in a version called Mobile WiMAX 2.0, to be specified in IEEE
802.16m. Such a 4G family, in adherence to the principles defined for acceptance into this ITU process, is
globally recognized to be one that can grow to include all aspects of a marketplace arriving beyond 2010,
thus complementing and building upon an expanding and maturing 3G ecosystem.

Various standardization and regulatory bodies estimate the commercial launch of 4G networks between
2012 and 2015.

Any claim that a particular technology is a so-called “4G technology” prior to an established definition by the
ITU is, in reality, simply a marketing spin, which only creates market confusion and deflates the importance
of the telecommunications industry standards. Technologies should be verified against a set of agreed upon
requirements in order to qualify as 4G, and this will happen in the future when the ITU has outlined the
requirements. Only then will it be understood what is, and can be rightly and credibly called, 4G.

2G
2G (or 2-G) is short for second-generation wireless telephone technology. It cannot
normally transfer data, such as email or software, other than the digital voice call itself,
and other basic ancillary data such as time and date. Nevertheless, SMS messaging is also
available as a form of data transmission for some standards.

2G services are frequently referred as Personal Communications Service or PCS in the


US.

2G technologies can be divided into TDMA-based and CDMA-based standards


depending on the type of multiplexing used. The main 2G standards are:

GSM (TDMA-based), originally from Europe but used worldwide


IDEN (TDMA-based), proprietary network used by Nextel in the United States and Telus
Mobility in Canada
IS-136 aka D-AMPS, (TDMA-based, commonly referred as simply TDMA in the US),
used in the Americas
IS-95 aka cdmaOne, (CDMA-based, commonly referred as simply CDMA in the US),
used in the Americas and parts of Asia
PDC (TDMA-based), used exclusively in Japan

2.5G services are already available in many countries and 3G will be widely available in
many countries during 2004. Work on 4G has already started although its scope is not
clear yet.

2.5G
2.5G is a stepping stone between 2G and 3G cellular wireless technologies. The term
"second and a half generation" is used to describe 2G-systems that have implemented a
packet switched domain in addition to the circuit switched domain. It does not necessarily
provide faster services because bundling of timeslots is used for circuit switched data
services (HSCSD) as well.

While the terms "2G" and "3G" are officially defined, "2.5G" is not. It was invented for
marketing purposes only.

2.5G provides some of the benefits of 3G (e.g. it is packet-switched) and can use some of
the existing 2G infrastructure in GSM and CDMA networks. The commonly known 2.5G
technique is GPRS. Some protocols, such as EDGE for GSM and CDMA2000 1x-RTT
for CDMA, officially qualify as "3G" services (because they have a data rate of above
144kbps), but are considered by most to be 2.5G services (or 2.75G which sounds even
more sophisticated) because they are several times slower than "true" 3G services.

2G is the current generation of full digital mobile phone systems. It transmits primarily
voice but is used for circuit-switched data service and SMS as well.

3G is now the third generation of mobile phone systems. They provide both a packet-
switched and a circuit-switched domain from the beginning. It requires a new access
network, different from that already available in 2G systems. Due to cost and complexity,
rollout of 3G has been somewhat slower than anticipated.

2.75G
A 2G mobile phone is a circuit switched digital mobile phone. A 3G mobile is a digital
phone with rapid data according to one of the standards being a member of the IMT-2000
family of standards. After those terms were defined, slow packet switched data was
added to 2G standards and called 2.5G. 2.75G is the term which has been decided on for
systems which don't meet the 3G requirements but are marketed as if they do (e.g.
CDMA-2000 without multi-carrier) or which do, just, meet the requirements but aren't
strongly marketed as such. (e.g. EDGE systems).

The term 2.75G has not been officially defined anywhere, but as of 2004 is beginning to
be used quite often in media reports.

Frequency reuse
The heart and soul, the inner core, the sine qua non of cellular radio is frequency
reuse. The same frequency sets are used and reused systematically throughout a
carrier's coverage area. If you have frequency reuse you have cellular. If you don't,
well, you don't have cellular. Frequency reuse distinguishes cellular
from conventional mobile telephone service, where only a few frequencies are used
over a large area, with many customer's competing to use the same channels. Much
like a taxi dispatch operation, older style radio telephone service depended on a high
powered, centrally located transmitter which paged or called mobiles on just a few
frequencies.

Cellular instead relies on a distributed network of cells, each cell site with its own
antenna and radio equipment, using low power to communicate with the mobile. In
each cell the same frequency sets are used as in other cells. But the cells with those
same frequencies are spaced many miles apart to reduce interference. Thus, in a 21
cell system a single frequency may be used several times. The lone, important
exception to this are CDMA systems which we will cover later. In those, the same
frequencies are used by every cell.

Each base station, in addition, controls a mobile's power output, keeping it low
enough to complete a circuit while not high enough to skip over to another cell.
(back to Cell Basics article)

The frequency reuse concept. Each honeycomb represents a cell. Each number
represents a different set of channels or paired frequencies. A cellular system
separates each cell that shares the same channel set. This minimizes interference
while letting the same frequencies be used in another part of the system. This is
frequency reuse. Note, though, that CDMA based systems can use, in theory, all
frequencies in all cells, substantially increasing capacity . For review, a channel is a
pair of frequencies, one for transmitting on and one for receiving. Frequencies are
described by their place in the radio spectrum, such as 900mHZ, whereas channels
are described by numbers, such as channels 334 through 666. Illustration from the
CDC.

Click here to go to another frequency resuse explanation in my Cellular Baiscs Article


-- it contains a large graphic from an early