The History of GPRS: GSM, Beginnings & EDGE

One of the first technologies to give wireless internet to mobile phones.

GPRS gets its name because it uses packet switching to handle data efficiently. Rather than treating communications as a steady stream, the service breaks it into small bursts of data. By concentrating data this way, GPRS can squeeze more information into a given amount of bandwidth.

GSM, the Global System for Mobile Communications — GSM derives from the French version of the name — was GPRS’ precursor. It became the European standard for cellular communication in the late 1980s and soon spread around the world, acquiring two billion users by 2011. GSM networks carry voice traffic, but after GPS developed in the late 1990s, manufacturers marketed GPS phones that use GPRS to tap into the Internet.

GPRS begins:
Starting in 1999, cellular networks began incorporating GPRS technology into their infrastructure. The service became available in 2001. Initial data-transmission speed ran to around 28 kilobytes per second, but eventually GPRS phones could surf the Web at 60 kilobytes per second. Data packaging makes GPRS cost-efficient, as phone users only pay for bursts of data rather than a steady stream. It doesn’t place an excessive drain on the battery while Web surfing or sending text messages.

Exchanged Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) is a newer technology based on GPRS that is capable of handling data much faster. GPRS works for casual Web browsing; EDGE, with a speed of 473 kilobytes per second, works for business, whether you’re conducting research online or downloading a large email attachment. Cellular companies have to make further modifications to their equipment in order to use EDGE in their transmissions. As companies have chosen not to do that at some sites, EDGE coverage is patchy.

GPRS Today:
Although cellular communication keeps improving, upgrading to 3G and 4G networking for instance, GPRS is still in wide use around the world. Mobile phones that don’t support 3G use GPRS for texting and email. iPhones use GPRS when they aren’t connecting to a 3G network. GPRS is common enough that one hacker conference in 2011 made hacking into GPRS the focus of its presentations. Most networks using GPRS do not encrypt it.

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