GSM - History

History

Early European analog cellular networks consisted of a mix of technologies and protocols that varied from country to country, meaning that phones did not necessarily work on different networks. In addition, manufacturers had to produce different equipment to meet various standards across the markets.

In 1982, 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 provided a permanent group of technical support personnel, based in Paris. Five years later in 1987, 15 representatives from 13 European countries signed a memorandum of understanding in Copenhagen to develop and deploy a common cellular telephone system across Europe, and European Union 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 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 Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri to Kaarina Suonio (mayor in city of Tampere) on 1 July 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.

Work begun 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 Australia became 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 and worldwide GSM subscribers exceeded 500 million. In 2002 the first multimedia messaging services (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 and worldwide GSM subscribers exceeded two billion in 2008.

The GSM Association estimates 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.

Macau phased out their GSM network in January 2013 (except for roaming services), making it the first region to decommission a GSM network.

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