GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications, originally Groupe Spécial Mobile), is a standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to describe protocols for second generation (2G) digital cellular networks used by mobile phones. It is the de facto global standard for mobile communications with over 90% market share, and is available in over 219 countries and territories.

The GSM standard was developed as a replacement for first generation (1G) analog cellular networks, and originally described a digital, circuit-switched network optimized for full duplex voice telephony. This was expanded over time to include data communications, first by circuit-switched transport, thenpacket data transport via GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution or EGPRS).

Subsequently, the 3GPP developed third generation (3G) UMTS standards followed by fourth generation (4G) LTE Advanced standards, which are not part of the ETSI GSM standard.

“GSM” is a trademark owned by the GSM Association. It may also refer to the initially most common voice codec used, Full Rate.


In 1981, work began to develop a European standard for digital cellular voice telephony when the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) created the Groupe Spécial Mobile committee and later provided a permanent technical support group based in Paris. Five years later, in 1987, 15 representatives from 13 European countries signed amemorandum of understanding in Copenhagen to develop and deploy a common cellular telephone system across Europe, and EU rules were passed to make GSM a mandatory standard. The decision to develop a continental standard eventually resulted in a unified, open, standard-based network which was larger than that in the United States. In 1989, the Groupe Spécial Mobile committee was transferred from CEPT to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

In 1987 Europe produced the very first agreed GSM Technical Specification in February. Ministers from the four big EU countries cemented their political support for GSM with the Bonn Declaration on Global Information Networks in May and the GSM MoU was tabled for signature in September. The MoU drew-in mobile operators from across Europe to pledge to invest in new GSM networks to an ambitious common date. It got GSM up and running fast.

In this short 37-week period the whole of Europe (countries and industries) had been brought behind GSM in a rare unity and speed guided by four public officials Armin Silberhorn (Germany), Stephen Temple (UK), Philippe Dupuis (France), and Renzo Failli (Italy).[8] In 1989 the Groupe Spécial Mobile committee was transferred from CEPT to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

In parallel, France and Germany signed a joint development agreement in 1984 and were joined by Italy and the UK in 1986. In 1986 the European Commission proposed reserving the 900 MHz spectrum band for GSM.

Phase I of the GSM specifications were published in 1990. The world’s first GSM call was made by the former Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri to Kaarina Suonio (mayor in city of Tampere) on July 1, 1991, on a network built by Telenokia and Siemens and operated by Radiolinja. The following year in 1992, the first short messaging service (SMS or “text message”) message was sent and Vodafone UK and Telecom Finland signed the first international roaming agreement.

Telit GSM/GPRS Module

Work began in 1991 to expand the GSM standard to the 1800 MHz frequency band and the first 1800 MHz network became operational in the UK by 1993. Also that year, Telecom Australiabecame the first network operator to deploy a GSM network outside Europe and the first practical hand-held GSM mobile phone became available.

In 1995, fax, data and SMS messaging services were launched commercially, the first 1900 MHz GSM network became operational in the United States and GSM subscribers worldwide exceeded 10 million. Also this year, the GSM Association was formed. Pre-paid GSM SIM cards were launched in 1996 and worldwide GSM subscribers passed 100 million in 1998.

In 2000, the first commercial GPRS services were launched and the first GPRS compatible handsets became available for sale. In 2001 the first UMTS (W-CDMA) network was launched, a 3G technology that is not part of GSM. Worldwide GSM subscribers exceeded 500 million. In 2002 the first Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) were introduced and the first GSM network in the 800 MHz frequency band became operational. EDGE services first became operational in a network in 2003 and the number of worldwide GSM subscribers exceeded 1 billion in 2004.

By 2005, GSM networks accounted for more than 75% of the worldwide cellular network market, serving 1.5 billion subscribers. In 2005 the first HSDPA capable network also became operational. The first HSUPA network was launched in 2007. High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and its uplink and downlink versions are 3G technologies, not part of GSM. Worldwide GSM subscribers exceeded two billion in 2008.

The GSM Association estimated in 2010 that technologies defined in the GSM standard serve 80% of the global mobile market, encompassing more than 5 billion people across more than 212 countries and territories, making GSM the most ubiquitous of the many standards for cellular networks.

It is important to note that GSM is a second-generation (2G) standard employing Time-Division Multiple-Access (TDMA) spectrum-sharing, issued by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). The GSM standard does not include the 3G UMTS CDMA-based technology nor the 4G LTE OFDMA-based technology standards issued by the 3GPP.

Macau planned to phase out its 2G GSM networks as of June 4, 2015, making it the first region to decommission a GSM network.

GSM carrier frequencies

Main article: GSM frequency bands

GSM networks operate in a number of different carrier frequency ranges (separated into GSM frequency ranges for 2G and UMTS frequency bands for 3G), with most 2G GSM networks operating in the 900 MHz or 1800 MHz bands. Where these bands were already allocated, the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz bands were used instead (for example in Canada and the United States). In rare cases the 400 and 450 MHz frequency bands are assigned in some countries because they were previously used for first-generation systems.

Most 3G networks in Europe operate in the 2100 MHz frequency band. For more information on worldwide GSM frequency usage, see GSM frequency bands.

Regardless of the frequency selected by an operator, it is divided into timeslots for individual phones. This allows eight full-rate or sixteen half-rate speech channels per radio frequency. These eight radio timeslots (or burst periods) are grouped into a TDMA frame. Half-rate channels use alternate frames in the same timeslot. The channel data rate for all 8 channels is 270.833 kbit/s, and the frame duration is 4.615 ms.

The transmission power in the handset is limited to a maximum of 2 watts in GSM 850/900 and 1 watt in GSM 1800/1900.

Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)

Main article: Subscriber Identity Module

One of the key features of GSM is the Subscriber Identity Module, commonly known as a SIM card. The SIM is a detachable smart card containing the user’s subscription information and phone book. This allows the user to retain his or her information after switching handsets. Alternatively, the user can also change operators while retaining the handset simply by changing the SIM. Some operators will block this by allowing the phone to use only a single SIM, or only a SIM issued by them; this practice is known as SIM locking.

Information was taken from Wikipedia.

Main Picture is  A Chip extracted from an AT&T Mobility SIM Card. You can clearly see the wires connecting the IC to the contacts. Taken in front of a very bright light so you can see through the board.