What is GPRS?

David White

The world of mobile phones is changing, daily it seems. All the rage these days is 3G, third-generation telephony, such as mobile Web browsing and other advanced functionalities. These 3G protocols are manufactured on the building blocks of 2G technologies, which were themselves revolutionary when they began to be used widely. In between these two technologies is General Packet Radio Service (GPRS).

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

GPRS is a series of functionalities that allow mobile data streaming and transfer to users of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) mobile phones. GPRS is sometimes called 2.5G, since it predates 3G but is more advanced than 2G. GPRS also boasts communication speeds of up to 115 kilobits a second, a vast improvement over the GSM standard of 9.6 kilobits a second.

GPRS allows multiple users to share a transmission channel by opening the transmission for transfer only when each individual user needs it. Very few users need always-on data transfer capability, so GPRS works for a vast majority of users. Such new-technology functions as Web browsing, instant messaging, and real-time email reception require intermittent data transfers and are perfect examples of the successful functionality of the kind of shared bandwidth capability that GPRS offers. This kind of shared transmission is called packet switching. GPRS also facilitates streaming video, location-based Web services, and multimedia messages. These functions involve larger, more continuous streams of data, however, and usually require the user to wait a bit longer for such data transactions to take place.

A close cousin of GPRS in the technology family tree is Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE). EDGE allows higher bit transmission rates at a price of lower bandwidth available for plain old phone calls. EDGE is particularly useful as a GPRS solution for the larger data services described above, such as streaming video and video conferencing.

GPRS is a necessary bridge between 2G and 3G mobile telephony technologies. GPRS also makes possible the use of laptop computers as GSM devices, operating either on satellite or WiFi Internet connections. In this way, the line between mobile phone and mobile computer is further blurred.

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