What is GPRS in GSM?

GPRS is a mobile network enhancement that was introduced as the first packet-switched mobile data technology in the GSM networks. The introduction of GPRS allowed mobile operators to offer efficient mobile data services to their customers. The word ‘efficient’ is important here because GSM networks already had the capability to offer very limited data services by using the circuit-switched part of the mobile network before GPRS. We have a dedicated post on circuit-switched vs packet-switched which you can check out for details, but generally speaking, the circuit-switched technique is not the most efficient way of transferring data. So, a different solution was required and that gap was filled by GPRS which used the packet-switched technique for mobile data.

Why does my phone say GPRS?


If you have your mobile subscription from a mobile operator that uses GSM networks, then your phone may go on GPRS if you travel to areas with 2G-only coverage. On the other hand, if your mobile operator is CDMA-based (e.g. CDMA2000 or EVDO), then your phone will not show GPRS but you will instead be served by IS-95 A/B in 2G-only coverage areas.

What GPRS means?

GPRS stands for General Packet Radio Service and it is a technology enhancement for 2G GSM networks that connects your mobile phone to the internet. The original 2G GSM networks were circuit-switched and were not able to provide efficient data services. GPRS added the packet-switched part to the GSM networks to enable highly efficient packet-based data services.

What is GPRS used for?

GPRS is used for enabling mobile data (internet) in 2G GSM mobile networks through packet-switched technology. It uses SGSN-Serving GPRS Support Node and GGSN- Gateway GPRS Support Node to connect GSM networks to external networks including the internet. GPRS was later enhanced through another technology EDGE or Enhanced Data for Global Evolution. GPRS can enable peak download speeds of up to 171.2 kbps which in today’s world (2020) is very low. However, GPRS was a big achievement as it paved the way for the evolution of mobile data based on the packet-switched technique.

Is GPRS 2G or 3G?

GPRS is a second-generation (2G) technology that was introduced as part of the GSM mobile network evolution.GPRS was followed by another enhancement called EDGE or Enhanced Data for Global Evolution which improved the speeds a bit further. The network nodes that GPRS(and EDGE) introduced in the 2G GSM network architecture (GGSN and SGSN) remained unchanged in the third generation (3G) UMTS networks. GPRS and EDGE are therefore referred to as 2.5G and 2.75G and can enable peak download data rates of up to 171.2 kbps and 384 kbps respectively. The other track of mobile network evolution that followed the CDMA path, utilised Interim Standard 95 (IS-95) for circuit-switched and packet-switched capabilities. The IS-95 standard also has two variants. The first variant IS-95 A can provide data rates of up to 14.4 kbps while the second variant IS-95 B can offer data rates of up to 115 kbps.

What speeds do you get with GPRS?

The peak download speed of GPRS is 171.2 kbps which is the maximum you can get on GPRS. The average speeds are lower than the peak speeds. The other enhancement EDGE can offer peak downlink speeds of up to 384 kbps for downloads, which is more than double the speed that GPRS can offer. Even though 384 kbps can theoretically support basic mobile internet tasks, we don’t get peak speeds in real life. Generally, depending on how many people are on the network and how far you are from the base station, you may only get to enjoy a small portion of this 384 kbps i.e. 130-200 kbps. EDGE also uses the packet-switched methodology to send and receive mobile data, just like GPRS. Below is a quick table that summarises this information. You may also check out our dedicated post that provides a detailed comparison of the data rates that can be achieved through various mobile technologies including 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G technologies.

TechnologyNetwork GenerationMeaningMaximum download speedAverage download speed
GPRS2G (or 2.5 G)General Packet Radio Service171.2 kbps
EDGE2G (or 2.75 G)Enhanced Data for Global Evolution384 kbps130-200 kbps

How is GPRS different from GSM?

GPRS is a part of GSM networks and is not a separate technology. GSM networks use the circuit-switched technique for voice calls which requires a dedicated circuit to be made available for the entire duration of a call even if the users are not speaking. In the original circuit-switched GSM networks, a technology called HSCSD – High-Speed Circuit Switched Data could enable mobile data through the circuit-switched part of the network. However, circuit-switching is not efficient for data sessions because, in data sessions, users don’t necessarily send and receive at the same time.

Therefore, GPRS networks employed the packet-switched technique, which was more efficient. With the packet-switched method, the data is sent and received in the form of packets of data bursts at different time intervals by sharing the available capacity with multiple users. So rather than dedicating the entire capacity to one session, the capacity is shared to facilitate multiple sessions. In this way, when a certain user in a certain session isn’t sending/receiving any data-bursts, other users in other sessions can utilise the same capacity.

For completeness, this whole efficiency thing doesn’t mean that GPRS replaces the circuit-switched part of the GSM network. It just means that the voice calls continue to use circuit-switched to ensure the right quality of service, and the data sessions use the packet-switched part of the mobile network to offer efficient mobile data services.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. But sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or 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 challenges given 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 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 product overview and product roadmap.

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