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IoT Glossary

What is GSM?

Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) is the technology behind the old 2G network.

What is GSM?

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) refers to the technology behind the old 2G network. Up until recently, this was the network technology of choice for businesses to deploy their IoT and M2M devices. However, with 2G due to be switched off in many countries over the coming years, we are now witnessing the deployment of the last generation of devices to rely on this standard.

What is GSM?

GSM is the standard behind the Second Generation (2G) of wireless telephone technology. First launched in Finland in 1991, it quickly became the world’s standard network technology, delivering fast, secure wireless connections.

GSM marked the switch from analogue to digital mobile telecoms. It was the first platform to accommodate data services (SMS and MMS) across mobile. Security was the other big factor in its favour. With the previous 1G networks, it was easy to hack communications through radio scanners. GSM encrypted data and calls, so only the intended recipient of a communication could receive or read it.

Over time, new cellular networks (3G, 4G and 5G) have emerged to deliver the greater bandwidth and higher upload/download speeds demanded by mobile users and device manufacturers.

However, the GSM standard still serves a purpose. It was designed primarily with phones in mind, but more widely, GSM-based networks also happen to be ideal for transporting small packets of data, reliably and securely. This means that 2G is still used for billions of connected devices: everything from car infotainment systems to equipment monitors.

Benefits of GSM

Coverage

For the time being at least, 2G is widespread across the globe, operating on a harmonised frequency spectrum. This is good news for any business seeking to build a global presence. It means that your connected devices can be put to work across multiple different geographical markets, with little or no adaptation required for different areas.

 

Cost-effectiveness

If something works already, why change it? With most IoT initiatives, you do not need to send vast amounts of data to and from devices. You simply need a suitable, low-cost platform that covers the area in which you intend to operate. GSM-based networks tend to meet these basic criteria. With later-generation technologies, there is the risk of needlessly paying for capabilities that your business does not require.

 

Reliability

GSM-based networks tend to be stable, with little risk of downtime. As an illustration of GSM’s reliability, many mobile carriers still maintain 2G as a fallback, to cover the gaps in patchy 4G/5G coverage, and to kick into play if their more advanced networks suffer an outage.

Disadvantages of GSM

Bandwidth

2G bandwidth maxes out at 64 kbps. With 5G, it is 1Gbps and higher: i.e. 15 times greater. Normally, bandwidth is not the only – or indeed, primary – consideration for choice of IoT network. But it can be crucial. For example, if you want to incorporate the transmission of video footage into upcoming projects, 2G’s low bandwidth makes this impossible.

 

2G sunsetting

There is finite space on the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. To make room for more advanced networks, operators are already phasing out their 2G and 3G networks. U.S. operators, AT&T and Verizon have already shut down their 2G networks. In Europe, the trend seems to be for 3G networks to be decommissioned first, leaving 2G as a fallback for the time being.

It might not be an immediate threat, but 2G sunsetting should be viewed as an inevitability. There is a risk of investing in a particular IoT project at this stage utilising GSM, only to incur extra costs in reconfiguration a little later on. For existing deployments, it is far preferable to plan your transition to a suitable alternative technology, rather than be faced with a last-minute rush.

To future-proof your existing and planned IoT deployments…

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