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The comparison between GSM and UMTS, provided in this article, is aimed at clearing out the differences between these two technologies.

Cell phone technology has taken communication to a whole new level, by truly unplugging the world. The wave of wireless telecommunication has spread all over the world now, with connectivity reaching the most remote corners. GSM and UMTS are two different technologies that have represented two different waves in the cell phone revolution.

Difference Between GSM and UMTS

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) are two of the prime technologies that form the backbone of cell phone communication. Let us begin the comparison by tracing their history.


Development of GSM technology began in 1982, under the aegis of ‘Groupe Spécial Mobile’, which was created by CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) for development of a cell phone technology that would cover all of Europe. From 1989, the work was continued further by ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), who developed its first phase in 1990. The first real GSM based network became operational in Finland around 1991. After that, it spread across many other countries around the world and today, it is a global established standard for cell phone communication.

UMTS is also known as W-CDMA, FOMA, or 3G/3G+ around the world. This is an alternative cell phone communication technology, that was first released in 2001, as an alternative to existing GSM technologies. Its development began in 1992 and it is one of the many CDMA based technologies that have been integrated to provide third generation service, compared to the second generation services offered by GSM.

Difference in Technology

GSM is a second generation technology that divides regions into cells for mobile communication. Every cell has a main base antenna. A cell phone connects with any one, that is closest. Size of cells depends on the power and height of the transreceiver antennas. The operation bands are very specific, which includes the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands.

A feature of GSM based mobile phones is the use of a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card, which is a smart card installed in every cell phone. This system is based on the TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) technology and offers data transfer speeds up to 144 Kbps. It is the preferred cell phone technology in almost 200 countries over the world, with more than 700 cell phone companies using it.

UMTS is a third generation technology that has continued to evolve over the years and now offers 3G services like video calling, high speed Internet access, and multimedia services. It is based on the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technique of modulating carrier signals. It offers the highest data transfer speeds currently, with an extremum of 3.6 Mbps. This makes UMTS or 3G services phenomenally faster than the older GSM technology. 3G mobile phones have now been launched to take advantage of services offered under UMTS.

However, this technology hasn’t yet spread as widely as GSM. That is because the infrastructure needed for its deployment is still in development mode. However, many cell phone providers have already started providing 3G and 4G services in USA. To conclude this comparison, UMTS is the superior technology which is going to be the default standard for cell phone communication. It is a revolutionary technology that is developing the mobile phone as the new Internet platform, with multimedia services. It is the dawn of a new era in communication technology that is going to take communication to a whole new level.

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