Relationship between UMTS and GPRS

The fourth generation of mobile networks that we see today is enabled by a single technology, LTE or Long Term Evolution. However, before LTE streamlined the mobile network evolution, there were two main evolution tracks during the second and third generations of mobile networks. The first track was GSM that evolved through UMTS to LTE, whereas the other track was IS-95 that evolved through CDMA2000 to LTE. GPRS belongs to the second generation of mobile networks, and UMTS belong to the third generation.

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) is a 3G mobile communications technology that enables peak data rates of up to 2 Mbps through WCDMA; GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is a packet-switched enhancement added to the 2G GSM networks to enable peak data rates of up to 171.2 kbps.

GPRS is a 2G enhancement

GPRS or General Packet Radio Service is an enhancement that was introduced in the 2G GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks. The original GSM networks, as part of phase 1, did not support mobile data services. Later, HSCSD (High-Speed Circuit Switched Data) was added to the GSM networks to enable mobile data. While this approach provided a quick win to mobile operators as no changes to the GSM network architecture were required, HSCSD was not well suited for the bursty nature of internet usage. HSCSD needed mobile phones to stay connected to the network for the entire duration of their data sessions, even when users were not uploading or downloading. GPRS was a paradigm shift as it used packet-switched technology to allow engagement of network resources based on data usage rather than the connection duration. As a result, in GPRS networks, the charging is based on the amount of data transmitted instead of the connection duration.

UMTS is a 3G cellular technology

UMTS stands for Universal Mobile Telecommunication System, and it is a third-generation (3G) mobile network technology. UMTS is a counterpart of another leading 3G technology, CDMA2000. UMTS is the 3G migration path for the most dominant second-generation cellular technology standard, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). Unlike GSM, which relied on TDMA and FDMA for its air interface, UMTS is based on the WCDMA technology (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access). CDMA2000, on the other hand, is the 3G migration path for IS-95 networks that are also referred to as cdmaOne. In GSM networks, the channel bandwidth is typically 200 kHz; however, UMTS networks use wider bands, 5 MHz being the primary channel bandwidth. UMTS networks can technically also employ frequency carriers of 10 MHz and 20 MHz bandwidth. GPRS and EDGE enhancements in the GSM networks introduced two core network nodes SGSN (Serving GPRS Support Node) and GGSN (Gateway GPRS Support Node). These nodes are also used in the UMTS networks to enable the packet-switched mobile data. UMTS networks can enable peak data rates of up to 2 Mbps and real-life speeds of around 384 kbps in the downlink for downloads. UMTS networks do not replace GSM and GPRS, but they co-exist and work with GSM/GPRS to provide mobile data services to users.


GPRS stands for General Packet Radio Service, and it is a network enhancement made to the second generation (2G) GSM networks that can enable data rates of up to 171.2 kbps in the downlink. UMTS stands for Universal Mobile Telecommunication System, and it is a third-generation network technology that provides a 3G migration path to the GSM networks. UMTS can enable data rates of up to 2 Mbps with real-life speeds of up to 384 kbps.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.

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