Guide to GSM - What's the fuss about ?

The concepts of cell-based mobile radio systems were born at Bell Laboratories (USA) in the early 1970s. However, mobile cellular systems were not introduced for commercial and consumer use until the 1980s. During early 1980s, analog cellular telephone systems experienced a very rapid growth in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia (Finland, Sweden, Norway) and the United Kingdom. Today's cellular systems still represent one of the fastest growing areas of the telecommunications industry. At that time each country developed its own system, which was incompatible with everyone else's equipment. This was an undesirable situation - not only was the mobile equipment limited to operation within national boundaries, but there was a very limited market for each type of equipment. These factors would impede the cell-based mobile communications evolution especially considering Europe's unified state.
Keeping all these considerations (an many others) in mind, the Conference of European Posts and Telegraphs (CEPT) formed a study group in 1982 called the Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM) to study and develop a pan European public land mobile system. The proposed system had to meet many criteria, most important of which were:

- Spectrum efficiency
- International roaming
- Low mobile and base stations costs
- Good subjective voice quality
- Compatibility with other systems such as ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network)
- Ability to support new services
- Ability to support handheld terminals,

A technological departure from existing cellular systems, which were developed using an analog technology, the GSM system was developed using a digital technology.

In 1989, GSM responsibility was transferred to the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), and phase I of the GSM specifications was published in 1990. At that time, the
United Kingdom requested a specification based on GSM but for higher user densities with low-power mobile stations, and operating at 1.8 GHz. The specifications for this system, called Digital Cellular System (DCS1800) were published 1991. Commercial service was started in mid­1991, and by 1993 there were 36 GSM networks in 22 countries, with 25 additional countries having already selected or considering GSM. It was not only a European standard - South Africa, Australasia, and many Middle and Far East countries have elected GSM. According to statistics by the beginning of 1994, there were 1.3 million subscribers worldwide. Nowadays the acronym GSM aptly stands for Global System for Mobile telecommunications.

Below is a timeline which outlines the progress of GSM and other mobile systems (*) development:

Year Event
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*1981 Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT), 450
1982 CEPT establishes a GSM study group in order to develop the standards for a pan-European cellular mobile system
*1983 American Mobile Phone System (AMPS)
1985 Adoption of a list of recommendations to be generated by the group
*1985 Total Access Communication System (TACS) Radiocom 2000 C-Netz
1986 Field tests were performed in order to test the different radio techniques proposed for the air interface
*1986 Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT), 900
1988 Validation of the GSM system
1989 The responsibility of the GSM specifications is passed to the ETSI
1990 Phase 1 of the GSM specifications
1991 Commercial launch GSM services
1992 More countries express interest in GSM
1993 Coverage of main roads GSM services starts outside Europe
*1994 Personal Digital Cellular (PDC) or Japanese Digital Cellular (JDC)
1995 Phase 2 of the GSM specifications Coverage of rural areas
*1995 Personal Communications Systems (PCS) 1900- Canada
*1996 Personal Communications Systems (PCS) 1900- USA

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