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GSM celebrates 20 years

By admin on Thu 30 June, 2011

World's 1st GSM Call

Harri Holkeri, then prime minister of Finland, makes the world's first GSM call, from a car phone in Helsinki on July 1 1991. Photo: Lehtikuva/Sari Gustafsson

GSM as in Global System for Mobile communica- tions? Who could be bothered with that one in the age of 3G, 3.5G, 4G and beyond? Does this technology still have any relevance today? Well, actually it does. Think of a mobile radio technology that supports more than 4.4 billion subscribers around the world, via 838 networks in 234 countries and independent territories. That’s GSM for you. Or think of a business that grows at the speed of light, with one million new subscriptions added every day, at a rate of nearly 12 a second. That’s again GSM.

GSM is still very much a success story today, and it has a strong history under its belt. Today exactly 20 years ago, on July 1, 1991, the world’s first GSM call on a commercial network was made between Finland’s former prime minister Harri Holkeri and vice mayor of the Finnish city of Tampere Kaarina Suonio.

The first GSM network was built by Telenokia and Siemens – today’s Nokia Siemens Networks – for the Finnish operator Radiolinja, now operating under the name Elisa. And this first call marked the start of a new era in global digital communications. GSM was adopted in 1987 as the European standard for second generation mobile technology that could carry data as well as voice traffic. GSM’s high-quality voice calls, easy international roaming and support for new services such as text messaging (SMS) laid the foundations for a worldwide boom in mobile phone use. In the following years, the number of GSM subscribers grew beyond all predictions. It reached more than 500 million in the first decade to 2001 to support 4.4 billion subscribers to date.

GSM was the first digital technology based on open standards and one that made the widespread adoption of mobile phones possible,” said Pekka Soini, head of corporate development office at Nokia Siemens Networks. “GSM continues to evolve and will be here in the coming decades together with 3G and LTE as an essential building block of the mobile broadband.”

“When we were building up the system and creating the first Nokia GSM phone that would make that first call very few of us dared to dream about the future,” said Timo Ali-Vehmas, VP, compatibility & industry collaboration, Nokia. “None of us back then imagined the huge impact GSM would go on to have for the lives of billions of people around the world. Of course, none of this could have been possible without the pioneering work by so many bright minds in the industry over the last twenty years. That work continues today and it is terrific to see GSM continuing to evolve and renew in many exciting ways.”

Nokia Siemens Networks’ GSM technology directly supports 2.9 billion subscribers – almost half of the world’s population – in 365 GSM networks in 143 countries. Recent GSM technology developmentsinclude voice capacity upgrades as well as smart device, machine-to-machine and high definition voice enhancements. The company’s latest innovation is a software feature that allows up to 100% increase in voice capacity and significantly enhanced speech quality for GSM.

Nokia introduced its first digital handheld GSM phone, the Nokia 1011, in 1992. Other iconic models have included the Nokia 2110, while the most popular model has been the Nokia 1100, of which more than 250 million have been sold.

During the very first GSM call on July 1, 1991, Harri Holkeri and Kaarina Suonio discussed the benefits of the new, digital, GSM technology, including superior voice quality and security, and the fact that the phone’s identity is in the SIM card, making it easy for consumers to choose the product they like.

This blog post is by Ruth Lileg from our Network Systems team, with inputs from Riita Mard of our External Comms team.

Video used with the permission of Finland’s national public service broadcasting company, YLE.

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  1. Sampaul21 Fri 1 July, 2011

    It’s amazing how far we have grown

  2. Sena Fri 8 July, 2011

    I have sent this link to my team mates. This little peep into our rich history is inspiring!