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GSM marks 20th anniversary

Posted: 11 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GSM? Global System for Mobile Communications? digital cellular networks?

The mobile communications industry is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 7, 1987 signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Groupe Speciale Mobile, or the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), by 15 operators from 13 European countries. That event led to the development of the GSM standard, which has become the leading digital technology globally for mobile networks.

The MoU was signed by representatives from Italy, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal. Spain signed three days later. The standard today is used by 2.5 billion people across 218 countries and territories.

Arguably, the decision by European Commission (EC) heads of government a year earlier to reserve the 900MHz spectrum for digital cellular networks was an even more crucial and fundamental milestone leading to the huge success of GSM technology.

Standards setters, regulators and semiconductor and infrastructure makers soon ensured a roll-out, initially in Europe, of the digital cellular system that is now deployed by 700 mobile operators and served by thousands of suppliers.

New directive
The 1987 agreement also triggered a technology evolution that continues today with the roll-out of more than 120 mobile broadband networks in 61 countries.

However, it emerged earlier this year that the EC is proposing to repeal the GSM Directive of 1987. The directive is now felt to be out of date as it prevents more advanced wireless technologies from using the reserved spectrum.

The proposal would allow new technologies to coexist with GSM in the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequencies, while preserving the continued operation of GSM in the European Union (EU).

A recent study for the industry suggested the new rules would cut network operating costs by 40 percent over the next five years, the EU noted.

If approved, 3G services could soon be allowed on the radio spectrum currently being used for GSM networks. The 3G technology employs the higher frequency 2100MHz range.

Birth of the mobile era
"The 1987 agreement is widely regarded as the foundation of today's global mobile phone industry and the birth of one of the greatest technological achievements of our age," said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, the global trade association for mobile operators. "The early vision of our industry created international cooperation on an unprecedented scale."

Sir Christopher Gent, one of the original signatories of the agreement and former CEO of Vodafone, commented, "GSM is the single most important agreement in the history of telecommunications. With 2.5 billion users around the world today, it has done more to bridge the digital divide than any other innovation, and is a tremendous example of global cooperation."

According to the GSMA, which also celebrates 20 years of existence, the base GSM technology represents 85 percent of the global mobile services market, which accounts for about 1.6 percent of global GDP. Each year, mobile users purchase more than one billion new handsets, make more than 7 trillion minutes of calls and send about 2.5 trillion text messages.

The first text message was sent in 1992 and now 7 billion text messages are sent every day. Mobile operators have spent more than $234 billion building GSM and 3GSM networks in the last five years.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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