What is GSM? Definition of GSM: Cell Phone Glossary

Definition: GSM, which stands for Global System for Mobile communications, reigns as the world’s most widely used cell phone technology. Cell phones use a cell phone service carrier’s GSM network by searching for cell phone towers in the nearby area.

The origins of GSM can be traced back to 1982 when the Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM) was created by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) for the purpose of designing a pan-European mobile technology.

It is approximated that 80 percent of the world uses GSM technology when placing wireless calls, according to the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry. This amounts to nearly 3 billion global people.

Cell phone carriers T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM for their cell phone networks. Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Verizon Wireless use the competing CDMA standard.

For practical and everyday purposes, GSM offers users wider international roaming capabilities than other U.S. network technologies and can enable a cell phone to be a “world phone”. More advanced GSM incorporates the earlier TDMA standard.

GSM carriers have roaming contracts with other GSM carriers and typically cover rural areas more completely than competing CDMA carriers (and often without roaming charges, too).

GSM also has the advantage of using SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards in the U.S. The SIM card, which acts as your digital identity, is tied to your cell phone service carrier’s network rather than to the handset itself.

This allows for easy exchange from one phone to another without new cell phone service activation.

GSM uses digital technology and is a second-generation (2G) cell phone system. GSM, which predates CDMA, is especially strong in Europe. EDGE is faster than GSM and was built upon GSM.

Also, check out information on 4G LTE.


Pronunciation: gee-ess-em

Also Known As: Global System for Mobile communications

Examples: T-Mobile uses GSM technology for its cell phone network.