20 years after first call, GSM rules the mobile world

Twenty years ago this month, Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri made the first mobile phone call via the Global System for Mobile Communications network.

The call was from Helsinki to Tampere, about 100 miles away, but in some ways it was a call heard 'round the world: GSM is now by far the dominant standard for mobile digital communications.

Holkeri made the call July 1, 1991, on Nokia gear on GSM's original 900MHz band, reported Engadget.

“None of us back then imagined the huge impact GSM would go on to have for the lives of billions of people around the world,” said Timo Ali-Vehmas, a vice president at Nokia, Intomobile reported.

GSM, at first called Groupe Spécial Mobile, was adopted in 1987 as the European standard for digital mobile technology; the second generation of GSM could carry data as well as voice traffic, Nokia said on its site.

Today there are more than 5.1 billion GSM mobile device connections, according to data from Wireless Intelligence. Eighty percent of mobile devices are on GSM, according to the GSM Association. GSM introduced several firsts: Time Division Multiple Access; the ability to switch handsets at will; Short Messaging Service and packet data; and practical Internet access on mobile devices, Engadget reported.

GSM is now evolving to incorporate fourth-generation long-term evolution Advanced standards.

GigaOm has a photo and video of that first call from Helsinki. Holkeri called from a car, and that phone won’t make anyone want to give up their Android.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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