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Understanding What is GSM Network Explained

by Marcin Wieclaw
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what is gsm network

The GSM network, which stands for Global System for Mobile communication, is a digital mobile network that is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. It is one of the three digital wireless telephony technologies, along with time division multiple access (TDMA) and code-division multiple access (CDMA).

GSM operates at either the 900 MHz or 1,800 MHz frequency band and uses TDMA technology. It digitizes and compresses data, sending it down a channel with two other streams of user data. GSM was developed to meet criteria such as international roaming support, high speech quality, support for hand-held devices, low service cost, support for new services, and ISDN capability.

GSM has an architecture that consists of four parts: the mobile device, base station subsystem (BSS), network switching subsystem (NSS), and operation and support subsystem (OSS). The BSS includes the base transceiver station (BTS) and base station controller (BSC), which communicate with mobile phones and control the network’s intelligence. The NSS tracks the location of callers and includes components like the mobile switching center (MSC) and home location register (HLR). The mobile device connects to the network via a subscriber identity module (SIM) card.

Despite its widespread use, GSM has some limitations, such as electronic interference, bandwidth lag, limited data transfer rate, and the need for repeaters. However, it remains a popular choice for mobile telecommunications and is used by carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile USA Inc. in the United States.

How Does GSM Work?

GSM, or Global System for Mobile communication, is a digital cellular communication standard that revolutionized mobile networks. It manages communication between mobile stations, base stations, and switching systems.

GSM relies on frequency division multiple access (FDMA) and time division multiple access (TDMA) techniques to transmit data. FDMA separates the 25 MHz bandwidth into 124 carrier frequencies, each assigned to one or more base stations. TDMA divides the carrier frequency into time slots, allowing multiple users to share the same frequency.

Each TDMA frame consists of 8 time slots, with each slot lasting 577 microseconds. This allows for efficient allocation and management of voice and data communication.

GSM organizes the geographical area into hexagonal cells, with each cell containing a base station and antenna at its center. These cells come in various sizes, including macro, micro, pico, and umbrella cells, depending on the coverage area.

Unique codes like International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity, and Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Number are used in GSM networks to identify subscribers and enable seamless call delivery.

GSM networks also facilitate roaming agreements between different operators, reducing costs for users who travel internationally.

Due to its simplicity, affordability, and accessibility, GSM has become the most widely used network technology, especially in applications related to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Advantages of GSM:

  • Efficient use of frequency resources through FDMA and TDMA techniques
  • Reliable voice and data communication
  • Roaming capabilities between different operators
  • Wide availability and adoption globally
  • Support for various cell sizes to optimize coverage

Disadvantages of GSM:

  • Electronic interference with other devices
  • Bandwidth lag during peak usage periods
  • Limited data transfer rate compared to more advanced technologies
  • Dependency on repeaters to extend network coverage

Despite its limitations, GSM technology continues to evolve and adapt to new advancements in mobile communication. The future of GSM lies in integration with technologies like 4G LTE, 5G, and beyond, ensuring that it remains a crucial part of the mobile communication landscape.

The Architecture of GSM

In the GSM network, the architecture is comprised of three primary systems – the network switching system (NSS), mobile station (MS), and base station system (BSS). Each system plays a crucial role in the functioning of the GSM network.

Network Switching System (NSS)

The NSS is responsible for managing the flow of communication and call processing for mobile devices as they move between different base stations. It consists of several functional units:

  • Mobile Services Switching Center (MSC): This unit facilitates call switching and monitoring of cellular services.
  • Home Location Register (HLR): It stores and manages subscriber information, including the location and various services they have access to.
  • Visitor Location Register (VLR): The VLR provides temporary information about subscribers who are not in their home network, ensuring seamless call delivery.
  • Equipment Identity Register (EIR): It verifies whether specific mobile equipment is authorized to operate on the network.

Base Station System (BSS)

The BSS consists of base stations and their associated controllers. Key components of the BSS include:

  • Base Transceiver Station (BTS): The BTS is responsible for communication with mobile phones. It contains radio transmitters, receivers, and antennas to facilitate seamless wireless communication.
  • Base Station Controller (BSC): A BSC controls a group of BTSs. It manages traffic between the mobile phones and the Network Switching System (NSS).

Mobile Station (MS)

The MS refers to the mobile device that connects to the GSM network through a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. The SIM card provides vital information about the mobile user, including their identification details necessary for network access.

NSS BSS MS
Mobile Services Switching Center (MSC) Base Transceiver Station (BTS) Mobile Device
Home Location Register (HLR) Base Station Controller (BSC) SIM Card
Visitor Location Register (VLR)
Equipment Identity Register (EIR)

Operations Support System (OSS)

In addition to the NSS, BSS, and MS, the GSM network architecture also includes an Operations Support System (OSS). The OSS plays a vital role in network maintenance and management, ensuring smooth operations and troubleshooting when necessary.

GSM vs. CDMA vs. LTE: Differences

When it comes to mobile communication technologies, there are three main contenders: GSM, CDMA, and LTE. Each of these technologies has its unique features and standards, catering to different needs and preferences.

GSM: Global System for Mobile communication is a second-generation (2G) standard that utilizes time division multiple access (TDMA) spectrum-sharing. Developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), GSM is the oldest of the three technologies. It is widely used in Europe and other regions around the world. One of the key advantages of GSM is its widespread adoption, with GSM networks deployed in almost every country. GSM has also evolved over time, serving as the foundation for 3G, 4G, and 5G standards in mobile communication.

CDMA: Code Division Multiple Access is a digital cellular standard that gained popularity in countries using older Analog AMPS systems. CDMA became the digital cellular standard in 1993. It uses a different technology for encoding and decoding data compared to GSM. However, CDMA is used in fewer than 10 countries, making it less popular than GSM.

LTE: Long-Term Evolution is a fourth-generation (4G) standard that offers high-speed data transfer. Unlike GSM and CDMA, LTE does not support traditional phone calls but instead uses voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for phone calls. LTE is a GSM technology that provides faster data transfer speeds, making it ideal for data-intensive activities such as video streaming and online gaming.

It’s essential to understand the differences between these technologies to make informed decisions regarding mobile communication. Here’s a summary of the key differences:

GSM CDMA LTE
Second-generation (2G) standard Digital cellular standard Fourth-generation (4G) standard
Uses TDMA spectrum-sharing Uses a different technology for encoding and decoding data Does not support traditional phone calls, uses VoIP
Widely used in Europe and other parts of the world Used in fewer than 10 countries Provides faster data transfer speeds

In summary, GSM, CDMA, and LTE are distinct mobile communication technologies with their own set of features and standards. GSM is the most widely adopted and evolved technology, while CDMA is used in limited regions. LTE offers high-speed data transfer but focuses on data communication rather than traditional phone calls. By understanding the differences between these technologies, users can make informed choices based on their individual needs and preferences.

Additional Information:

While GSM and CDMA are widely used mobile communication technologies, LTE has gained prominence as a transition technology towards fifth-generation (5G) networks. With the evolution of mobile communication, users can expect further advancements in network standards, allowing for faster data transfer speeds and improved capabilities.

Limitations of GSM

While GSM is widely used and preferred, it does have some limitations that are important to consider.

1. Electronic Interference: One disadvantage of GSM is its pulse-transmission technology, which can interfere with electronics like hearing aids. Places such as airports, gas stations, and hospitals require mobile phones to be turned off due to electromagnetic interference caused by GSM.

2. Bandwidth Lag: In GSM networks, bandwidth lag can occur when multiple users access the same bandwidth. As more users join the network, latency can increase, resulting in slower data transfer speeds.

3. Limited Data Transfer Rate: GSM offers a somewhat limited data transfer rate compared to more advanced forms of GSM technology. To achieve higher data rates, users may need to switch to devices with more advanced GSM technologies like GPRS or EDGE.

4. Repeater Requirement: GSM networks require the installation of repeaters to increase coverage. While repeaters can improve signal strength, they can also add complexity and cost to network deployment and maintenance.

5. Evolution of GSM Networks: Over time, GSM networks have evolved and download speeds have significantly improved. From 2G GPRS technology to today’s 5G technologies, download speeds in GSM networks have increased considerably.

Key Takeaways:

  1. GSM can cause electronic interference with devices like hearing aids.
  2. Bandwidth lag can occur in GSM networks when multiple users access the same bandwidth.
  3. GSM has a limited data transfer rate compared to more advanced GSM technologies.
  4. Repeater installation is required to increase coverage in GSM networks.
  5. Download speeds in GSM networks have improved with the evolution of technology.

GSM Limitations

As networks continue to evolve, GSM technology may continue to address these limitations and adapt to new advancements in mobile communication.

GSM Networks in the U.S.

Several GSM networks operate in the United States, providing mobile communication services to users. Some of the prominent GSM networks in the U.S. include:

  1. AT&T
  2. T-Mobile USA Inc.
  3. Telecom North America Mobile Inc.
  4. Union Wireless
  5. Viaero Wireless

In addition to these networks, there are several other GSM networks operating in the U.S., such as Cellular One, Cordova Wireless, Corr Wireless, NEP Wireless, Pine Cellular, Plateau Wireless, West Central Wireless, XIT Communications, Westlink, DTC Wireless, Epic PCS, Earthtones, Fuzion Mobile, i-Wireless, Indigo Wireless, and Immix.

These networks offer GSM-based services, allowing users to connect to the GSM network for voice and data communication.

GSM Networks
AT&T
T-Mobile USA Inc.
Telecom North America Mobile Inc.
Union Wireless
Viaero Wireless
Cellular One
Cordova Wireless
Corr Wireless
NEP Wireless
Pine Cellular
Plateau Wireless
West Central Wireless
XIT Communications
Westlink
DTC Wireless
Epic PCS
Earthtones
Fuzion Mobile
i-Wireless
Indigo Wireless
Immix

The Future of GSM

While GSM networks have been decommissioned in some countries, GSM technology continues to evolve and adapt to new advancements in mobile communication. As mobile technology advances, the future of GSM lies in the integration with newer technologies like 4G LTE, 5G, and beyond. With the advent of 5G networks, the future of GSM may involve the transition to more advanced network standards for improved data transfer speeds and capabilities.

The effects of 5G on the telecommunications industry are expected to be global and dramatic, with the potential to revolutionize the way we communicate and connect. The increased speeds, lower latency, and higher capacity of 5G networks will open up new possibilities for GSM technology. While it is still too early to predict the full extent of the impact of 5G on GSM and other mobile communication technologies, it is expected that GSM will continue to be a crucial part of the mobile communication landscape, serving as a foundation for future network advancements.

As mobile communication advancements continue to unfold, GSM’s future remains promising. The ongoing evolution of GSM technology ensures its relevance in the rapidly changing world of mobile communication. With its wide global adoption and compatibility, GSM will likely continue to play a significant role in connecting people and facilitating seamless communication across borders. As we embrace the future of mobile communication, GSM stands ready to adapt and keep pace with the ever-evolving needs of a connected world.

FAQ

What is a GSM network?

A GSM network is a digital mobile network widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. It is a cellular communication system that uses time division multiple access (TDMA) technology to manage communication between mobile stations, base stations, and switching systems.

How does GSM work?

GSM works by using digital radio channeling to transmit and receive audio and information communication. It utilizes frequency division multiple access (FDMA) to separate the 25 MHz bandwidth into 124 carrier frequencies, and time division multiple access (TDMA) to allocate the same frequency to multiple users by dividing the carrier frequency into time slots.

What is the architecture of GSM?

The architecture of GSM consists of three central systems: the network switching system (NSS), mobile station (MS), and base station system (BSS). The NSS includes the functional units of Mobile Services Switching Center (MSC), Home Location Register (HLR), Visitor Location Register (VLR), and Equipment Identity Register (EIR). The BSS includes components like the Base Transceiver Station (BTS) and Base Station Controller (BSC).

What are the differences between GSM, CDMA, and LTE?

GSM, CDMA, and LTE are different mobile communication technologies. GSM is a second-generation (2G) standard that uses TDMA spectrum-sharing, CDMA is a digital cellular standard, and LTE is a fourth-generation (4G) standard that offers high-speed data transfer. GSM and CDMA use different technologies for encoding and decoding data. GSM is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world, while CDMA is used in less than 10 countries. LTE provides faster data transfer speeds and uses voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for phone calls.

What are the limitations of GSM?

Some limitations of GSM include electronic interference, bandwidth lag, limited data transfer rate, and the need for repeaters to increase coverage. Electronic interference can occur in certain places due to the pulse-transmission technology of GSM. Bandwidth lag can occur when multiple users access the same bandwidth, resulting in latency. GSM offers a somewhat limited data transfer rate compared to more advanced GSM technologies. To achieve higher data rates, users may need to switch to devices with more advanced GSM technologies like GPRS or EDGE.

Which GSM networks are available in the U.S.?

Some of the GSM networks available in the U.S. include AT&T, T-Mobile USA Inc., Telecom North America Mobile Inc., Union Wireless, and Viaero Wireless. These networks provide mobile communication services to users, allowing them to connect to the GSM network for voice and data communication.

What is the future of GSM?

The future of GSM lies in the integration with newer technologies like 4G LTE, 5G, and beyond. As mobile technology advances, GSM will continue to be a crucial part of the mobile communication landscape, serving as a foundation for future network advancements.

Author

  • Marcin Wieclaw

    Marcin Wieclaw, the founder and administrator of PC Site since 2019, is a dedicated technology writer and enthusiast. With a passion for the latest developments in the tech world, Marcin has crafted PC Site into a trusted resource for technology insights. His expertise and commitment to demystifying complex technology topics have made the website a favored destination for both tech aficionados and professionals seeking to stay informed.

    View all posts

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