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What is GSM?

You don't have to be somebody with a vast experience of cell phones to have heard the term 'GSM', but what is GSM and what does GSM mean? This page is going to provide you with an explanation as to what GSM technology is and also information the GSM network. Most sites define GSM in what seems like a foreign language but we will keep out GSM meaning simple so that it can be understood by all.

If you are interested in CDMA, which is a wireless technology used in the USA, please check out our what is CDMA page.

What does GSM mean? GSM definition

Much like the term CDMA or 3G, GSM is an acronym and this means that it is a term made up of the first letters of a succession of related words. People often ask the question 'what does GSM mean?' or 'what does GSM stand for?' and the simple GSM definition is as follows:

  • G - Global
  • S - Systems
  • M - Mobile Communications

'Why is it not GSMC?', I hear you all ask, well the reason for this is that it was originally called 'Groupe Special Mobile' so instead of confusing everyone and changing it the name remained as before.

It is all very well knowing the meaning of GSM but that does not actually give anything away as to what it does and what it is actually used for. However, that is what we are going to go on to cover on this page so please continue to read and all of your questions will be answered.

We hope that this brief explanation has answered the question 'what does GSM mean?' for you.

What is GSM technology?

The main question that you will probably want answering if you are on this page is 'what is GSM technology?', what does it actually do and mean to anyone that uses a cell phone that works on the GSM network.

Basically GSM technology is a type of technology used to operate cell phones in certain parts of the world, primarily Europe. GSM technology requires a SIM card to be put into a mobile device in order for it to be used on a network. When the mobile device is used to make calls, download date or send messages it transmits at a certain frequency that the GSM network and the cell network provider works on and this allows it to be recognised and for the required action to take place.

The SIM card will hold data that a GSM phone will recognise when it has been inserted in it and turned on, this date ranges from text and picture messages to phone numbers and personal information of the person that owns the SIM card. GSM technology requires the use of a SIM card, phones that do not have a SIM card(most commonly in the USA) will not be GSM phones and instead they will use something called CDMA technology instead. For more information on CDMA technology please see our what is CDMA technology page.

GSM is a digital technology system and is by far the most widely used in the world with some eighty per cent of cell phones displaying the technology, as of mid 2011.

When you ask 'what is GSM technology?' think about it as a frequency of transmission, you use a phone that uses GSM technology that will submit in a reliable frequency that your cell phone network provider recognises.

What are GSM phones?

As we have previously stated, the main feature of a GSM compatible phone is one that requires a SIM card to work inside it. If you are in North America the most common technology used is CDMA where the phone does not have a SIM card. However, this means that the phone will not be able to transmit outside of the CDMA network, therefore pretty much anywhere else in the world. This is not good for people that want to use their cell phones abroad and why GSM is the better option. GSM phones will be able to pick up other networks when you are in a foreign country so you can still make and receive calls, upload and download data and send and receive text messages, just as you can back home.

Which countries have a GSM network?

The GSM network is found all over the world, below is a grid showing the countries that it is found in and the frequencies that it transmits at in these countries:

Which GSM phones work on which GSM network?

As you can see from the above table there are four different frequencies that GSM phone operates on, don't let this worry you too much when buying a cell phone as if you are buying one from a retailer in your country it is going to work where you live and with the network provider that you have bought it from, it is only really worth checking if you are getting a GSM phone from a third party.

When you are buying a phone or looking at buying a cell phone online there are always product or model specifications that will say which type of GSM phone it is.

Here we are going to briefly describe the types of GSM phones that are available and which frequencies they will work on, this is a good way of checking to see if a phone you plan on buying will not only work in your own country but also anywhere you may intend on traveling abroad.

* Dual-band GSM phone - Dual band GSM phones will work at either GSM-900 and GSM-1800 or GSM-850 and GSM-1900. This means it will either work on the standard US or European but not both of them.

* Tri-band GSM phone - These are the next generation of GSM phones to dual-band. They operate on three of the four GSM frequencies so are great for people that travel abroad. You can easily put in a foreign SIM card and use it when abroad. It will usually work on one of the US or European standard frequencies although will also work on one of the opposites too. If the phone you pruchase is primarily a United States phone, it is important to select a phone operating on GSM-850 and GSM-1900 frequencies, and the European frequency for the provider you have selected.

* Quad-band GSM phone - These are the business because they work on four different GSM frequencies, usually GSM-900, GSM-1800, GSM-850 and GSM-1900. They can be used pretty much anywhere there is a GSM network.

We hope that this quick guide to GSM phones and the types of them that are available has been useful to you.

More than what GSM is

We hope that you have found out GSM definition useful and you now know what GSM is. GSM technology is something that is used widely around the globe and although it is not really essential for the majority of people to know what type of technology their phone is working on, it can sometimes be useful to know. With the GSM network being found in a vast amount of countries it is always knowing a bit more about it if you plan on using a cell phone abroad. If you are interested in GSM phones then why not check out some of the cell phones that we have on our best smart phone page or find out more about the latest and greatest cell phones on our 'what is a smart phone?' page.

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