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GSM is an abbreviation of Global System for Mobile communication, originally it is known

as Group Special Mobile. It is mobile telephony system that sets the standards on how
mobile telecommunications work. It encompasses everything in reference to mobile

However, in this context of comparing GSM and UMTS, we will refer to GSM as a service or
technology. GSM is a second generation (2G) telecommunications technology which is
launched early in the 90s. Eventually, it increased its speed and added more functionality
like General Packet Radio System (GPRS) to the system which enhanced it to 2.5G status.
2.5G has data rates up to about 144kbit/s. It typically uses a variation of Time Division
Multiple Access (TDMA).

Today, in a global scale, GSM is still widely used mobile service. There are about 700
mobile networks that provide GSM services across more than 200 countries. Statistically,
more than 80 percent of all global mobile connections are GSM. With GSM, subscribers
can still continue using their mobile phones when traveling to other countries because
GSM network operators have expansive roaming agreements with foreign operators.

UMTS is the third generation (3G) of mobile telecommunications technology. It is the

latest commercially available technology that mobile phones, PDAs, and smart phones are
using today. With this development, internet access (email and web browsing), video
calling and messaging, and text messaging (SMS) are now possible along with traditional
phone tasks.

People can now do the activities they normally do with an internet-connected home
computer while on the trot. Imagine yourself traveling the world and still able to email,
video conference, and watch streaming videos using your smart phone. Currently, it can
offer transfer speeds of about 3.6 Mbits per second and even more, which can make data
transfer seamless and downloads relatively fast.

Unlike GSM, UMTS is mainly based on WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access)
scheme and now combines it with TDMA. However, UMTS is still new as there are only a
few areas and networks that support the technology. Even with countries that support it
may have set different spectrum, thus interoperability does not work fully when moving
from one nation to another nation with drastically different spectrum.

There are also problems regarding the compatibility between UMTS and GSM, which
frequently led to connections being dropped. But this is being remedied by UMTS/GSM
dual-mode devices. With that feature, UMTS phones that go out of UMTS network
boundaries will be transferred to GSM coverage. Transfer of network can happen mid-call.


1. UMTS has faster data transfer rates than GSM.

2. GSM is 2G and 2.5G while UMTS is already 3G.
3. GSM is a rather old technology while UMTS is newer.
4. GSM is typically based on TDMA while UMTS is mainly WCDMA-based.
5. Currently, GSM is still the most widely used technology today while UMTS is still in its
infancy, slowly creeping forward.


CDMA is a spread spectrum multiple access technique. In CDMA a locally generated code runs at a
much higher rate than the data to be transmitted. Data for transmission is simply logically XOR
(exclusive OR) added with the faster code.
W-CDMA is a wideband spread-spectrum mobile air interface that utilizes the direct-sequence
spread spectrum method of asynchronous code division multiple access to achieve higher speeds
and support more users compared to the implementation of time division multiplexing (TDMA) used
by 2G GSM networks
WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) is the radio access scheme used for third
generation cellular systems that are being rolled out in various parts of the globe. The 3G systems
to support wideband services like high-speed Internet access, video and high quality image
transmission with the same quality as the fixed networks. In WCDMA systems the CDMA air
interface is combined with GSM based networks. The WCDMA standard was evolved through the
Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) which aims to ensure interoperability between different
3G networks.

WCDMA Technical features:

• Radio channels are 5MHz wide.
• Chip rate of 3.84 Mbps
• Supports two basic modes of duplex: frequency division and time division. Current systems use
frequency division, one frequency for uplink and one for downlink. For time division, FOMA uses
sixteen slots per radio frame, whereas UMTS uses fifteen slots per radio frame.
• Employs coherent detection on both the uplink and downlink based on the use of pilot symbols
and channels.
• Supports inter-cell asynchronous operation.
• Variable mission on a 10 ms frame basis.
• Multicode transmission.
• Adaptive power control based on SIR (Signal-to-Interference Ratio).
• Multi-user detection and smart antennas can be used to increase capacity and coverage.
•Multiple types of handoff (or handover) between different cells including soft handoff, softer
handoff and hard handoff

WCDMA comes from Wideband Code Division Multiple Access and CDMA, as you may
guess, comes from Code Division Multiple Access. Apart from their almost the same name
the two technologies don’t share much characteristics.

WCDMA is a system developed by NTT DoCoMo from Japan, based on CDMA2000 but very
different. While CDMA2000 works with several pairs of 1.25 MHz frequency, the WCDMA
uses a pair of 5 MHz. It may look like its big fat brother but it’s not.

Economically speaking, CDMA and WCDA are rivals, with the balance leaning towards
CDMA due to its better performance – cost ratio. WCDMA, as well as CDMA, are the basis
for 3rd generation (3G) communication standard. But WCDMA goes with 3G UMTS, GSM’s
best friend, with increased coverage and low costs. 3G UTMS give you high data
transmission on the internet, video calls and a lot more mobile services. It also gives you
the possibility to send multiple data simultaneously, you can talk to the phone, send a
text message (SMS) and check your email in the same time from your phone.

If you don’t have 3G coverage all over but you still want / need to keep it activated don’t
worry, the cell phones are build to switch automatically to GSM mode when they lost the
3G connection.