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Evolution of GSM to 3G/IMT-2000 via GPRS/ EDGE/ WCDMA

Posted on 20-Feb-2004 17:46 by Global mobile Suppliers Association | Filed under: Articles

Realising and implementing 3G can be achieved effectively through a series of incremental steps, building on the global track record of GSM - the world's most successful digital cellular technology. With the evolution from GSM through GPRS and EDGE to WCDMA, a new mobile environment is being created. By growing capacity and capabilities seamlessly from 2G to 3G, new services are being introduced and experienced that will emphasise lifestyle rather than technology.

GPRS: the vital first step to WCDMA

The first step involves enhancing existing GSM networks with GPRS, introducing packet data services for "always on" mobility. This is a fast and cost-effective strategy, supporting the first wave of Mobile Internet services. Users benefit from fast connection set-up - sending and, receiving messages in an instant, using email on the move, and always-on access to a host of applications and data sources.

GSA has published a Special Focus Report "Current State and Outlook of GPRS in Europe". The report, which was conducted by Satama Interactive on behalf of GSA, provides a view of the current status and future outlook for GPRS in Europe. Its findings follow research undertaken during the period June - October 2002.

Click here to download the full report.


EDGE provides the next step beyond GPRS, offering data rates for 3G services within GSM operators' existing spectrum allocations. EDGE is recognised by the ITU as a 3G radio access standard. In technical terms, EDGE incorporates improvements to the GSM radio interface with a new modulation scheme delivering higher data rates, higher spectral efficiency, improved transmission perfor-mance and improved coverage. These improvements exploit the full benefits of GPRS developments in the core network. Although deployment requires the addition of new transceivers and, in some cases, base stations, this can be programmed into GSM operators' ongoing network expansion activity to minimise deployment cost. Future EDGE enhancements include improved voice capacity, coverage and speech quality features.

EDGE in Summary

  • EDGE triples GPRS capacity while increasing overall packet data performance
  • EDGE is a simple low cost add-on to existing GSM networks
  • EDGE does not require new cell planning or frequency planning
  • EDGE provides a necessary first step for a common GSM/WCDMA network
  • EDGE is the easiest path from GSM/GPRS to 3G high-speed data services, whether alone, or in combination with WCDMA.

    Click here for further details on EDGE, including White Papers, GSA Opinion Papers, Media Reports and details of the EDGE Operators' Forum - including details of the next meeting.

    WCDMA: realising the full 3G potential

    WCDMA, a wideband radio technique, represents the next step in the technology chain, delivering the full potential of 3G through its high data rate capabilities. WCDMA can typically handle simultaneous access to a variety of voice, data and video services. With typical user data rates initially at 64-384 kbit/s, WCDMA is more than capable of delivering what people want at the speeds they need. Also fully compliant with IMT-2000, WCDMA is the air interface technology for standards in the 2GHz bandwidth. It is the final piece in the technology jigsaw, with regard to bridging the transition to full 3G services. Whereas GPRS and EDGE are essentially enhancing existing spectrum, WCDMA provides the progression into new spectrum. Based on the GSM core network infrastructure, WCDMA enables GSM operators to integrate the technology into their existing networks. The WCDMA radio interface uses a signaling protocol structure that is comparable to GSM and TDMA, enabling the partial re-use of the core switching layer of these existing networks, and speeding up the rollout of new services.

    The user will be unaware that the network they are using operates a mix of technologies, operating seamlessly alongside one another and comprising GSM, GPRS, EDGE and WCDMA components. Once the initial deployment of 3G is completed, there will be a sustained evolution over at least a decade.

    The industry has a clear path forwards to WCDMA, building on the proven success of GSM. WCDMA is firmly on track as the defining technology for mobile communications, building from GSM through GPRS and EDGE to WCDMA.

    GPRS and EDGE are important avenues towards realising 3G and there is a clear evolutionary path to support growing market take-up, building the market gradually through service excellence and evolving applications. The evolutionary path from GSM through to WCDMA offers the optimum balance between the technology and the business cases.

    This article is being published with authorisation from the GSA - Global mobile Suppliers Association. Please note that since the original release of their paper, WCDMA was rebranded as 3GSM to avoid confusion between the WCDMA and CDMA2000 technologies. 3GSM services are delivered at a technical level on third generation standards developed by 3GPP, which utilise air interfaces for WCDMA and, in some specified markets, EDGE.

    For current (January 2004) number on subscribers of GSM, GPRS, EDGE and 3GSM services please read the news article GSM adds 200 million new users in 2003.

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