What Is GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)?

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General Packet Radio Service is a standard technology that extends Global System for Mobile voice networks with support for data features. GPRS-based networks are often called 2.5G networks and are gradually being phased out in favor of newer 3G, 4G, and 5G installations.

History of GPRS

GPRS was one of the first technologies that enabled a cell network to connect with Internet Protocol networks, achieving widespread adoption in the early 2000s. The ability to browse the web from a phone at any time through "always on" data networking, while taken for granted in much of the world today, was still a novelty when it was introduced. Even now, GPRS continues to be used in parts of the world where it has been too costly to upgrade cellular network infrastructure to newer alternatives.

Mobile internet providers offered GPRS data services together with voice subscription packages before 3G and 4G technologies became popular. Customers originally paid for GPRS service according to how much network bandwidth they used in sending and receiving data until providers changed to offer flat-rate use packages as is customary today.

Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution technology (often called 2.75G) was developed in the early 2000s as an enhanced version of GPRS. EDGE is sometimes also called Enhanced GPRS or simply EGPRS.

GPRS technology was standardized by the European Telecommunications Standard Institute. GPRS and EDGE deployments are both managed under the oversight of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project.

Features of GPRS

GPRS relies on packet switching for data transmission. It operates at extremely slow speeds by today's standards — data rates for downloads range from 28 Kbps to 171 Kbps, with upload speeds even lower. By contrast, EDGE supported download rates of 384 Kbps when it was first introduced, later enhanced up to about 1 Mbps.

Other features supported by GPRS include:

  • Short Message Service: special-purpose communication protocols designed for text messaging
  • Multimedia Messaging Service: extensions to SMS to enable transmission of videos in addition to text
  • Wireless Application Protocol: a specialized communication protocol for mobile browsers, now obsolete

Deploying GPRS to customers required adding two specific kinds of hardware to existing GSM networks:

  • The Gateway GPRS Support Node connects the service provider's cell network to the internet or another IP network. These devices manage traffic between the internal and external networks.
  • The Serving GPRS Support Node sits between the service provider's internal network and the customer-facing equipment, primarily base stations. These devices authenticate and manage phones signed onto the network and monitor usage.

The GPRS Tunneling Protocol supports the transfer of GPRS data through the existing GSM network infrastructure. GTP primary runs over User Datagram Protocol.

Using GPRS

To use GPRS, a person must have a cell phone and be subscribed to a data plan where the provider supports it.