Glossary definition of General Packet Radio Service

Also known as: GPRS

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is an ETSI standard, which was introduced as an enhancement to increase data speeds in GSM and TDMA wireless networks, and this is accomplished by adding a packet switching system into the networks. GSM is essentially a circuit switched technology, and GPRS represents the first implementation of packet switching within such networks. GPRS is particularly suitable for 'bursty' traffic applications, such as the Internet (e-mail and web browsing), intranet and multimedia services.

GPRS will enable subscribers to send and receive data at rates ranging from 14.4 kbps, using just one of the available TDMA time slots, up to a theoretical 115 kbps when all eight time slots are used. Being a packet switched system, the bandwidth within each GPRS cell sector will be divided between all the subscribers.

The characteristic of packet switched systems is that they are able to send and receive data immediately, without having to wait for the call set-up process that precedes a 2G data transfer. This means that, for non-voice applications, GPRS phones seem to the user to be 'always on'. In addition, as GPRS phones handle data by packet switching, but handle the voice by circuit switching, this permits users to receive voice calls while simultaneously sending or receiving data calls.

The packet switching, data transmission technique can also have financial benefits for the subscriber, since they may be charged according to the amount of data (i.e. the number of packets) they send, rather than the duration of the call.

Under the 2.5G upgrade route, known as EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution), GPRS will be combined with HSCSD to provide data rates as high as 384 kbps, which it achieves by joining multiple time slots. These upgrades enable 2G network operators to evolve towards 3G services using their old network architecture and the existing frequency bands.

The implementation of General Packet Radio Service is an important step in preparing for 3G networks, which also use packet switching technology.