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General Packet Radio Service

What is GPRS?
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The General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a new non-voice value added service that allows information to be sent and received across a mobile telephone network. It supplements today’s Circuit Switched Data and Short Message Service. GPRS is NOT related to GPS (the Global Positioning System), a similar acronym that is often used in mobile contexts.

Enabling GPRS on a GSM network requires the addition of two core modules, the Gateway GPRS Service Node (GGSN) and the Serving GPRS Service Node (SGSN). As the word Gateway in its name suggests, the GGSN acts as a gateway between the GPRS network and Public Data Networks such as IP and X.25. GGSNs also connect to other GPRS networks to facilitate GPRS roaming. The Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN) provides packet routing to and from the SGSN service area for all users in that service area.

In addition to adding multiple GPRS nodes and a GPRS backbone, some other technical changes that need to be added to a GSM network to implement a GPRS service. These include the addition of Packet Control Units; often hosted in the Base Station Subsystems, mobility management to locate the GPRS Mobile Station, a new air interface for packet traffic, new security features such as ciphering and new GPRS specific signalling.

GPRS Applications
A wide range of corporate and consumer applications are enabled by non voice mobile services such as SMS and GPRS. This section will introduce those that are particularly suited to GPRS.

Chat: Chat can be distinguished from general information services because the source of the information is a person with chat whereas it tends to be from an Internet site for information services. The "information intensity" - the amount of information transferred per message tends to be lower with chat, where people are more likely to state opinions than factual data. In the same way as Internet chat groups have proven a very popular application of the Internet, groups of like-minded people - so called communities of interest - have begun to use nonvoice mobile services as a means to chat and communicate and discuss.

Because of its synergy with the Internet, GPRS would allow mobile users to participate fully in existing Internet chat groups rather than needing to set up their own groups that are dedicated to mobile users. Since the number of participants is an important factor determining the value of participation in the newsgroup, the use of GPRS here would be advantageous. GPRS will not however support point to multipoint services in its first phase, hindering the distribution of a single message to a group of people. As such, given the installed base of SMS capable devices, we would expect SMS to remain the primary bearer for chat applications in the foreseeable future, although experimentation with using GPRS is likely to commence sooner rather than later.

Textural and Visual Information: A wide range of content can be delivered to mobile phone users ranging from share prices, sports scores, weather, flight information, news headlines, prayer reminders, lottery results, jokes, horoscopes, traffic, location sensitive services and so on. This information need not necessarily be textual- it may be maps or graphs or other types of visual information.

The length of a short message of 160 characters suffices for delivering information when it is quantitative - such as a share price or a sports score or temperature. When the information is of a qualitative nature however, such as a horoscope or news story, 160 characters is too short other than to tantalize or annoy the information recipient since they receive the headline or forecast but little else of substance. As such, GPRS will likely be used for qualitative information services when end users have GPRS capable devices, but SMS will continue to be used for delivering most quantitative information services. Interestingly, chat applications are a form of qualitative information that may remain delivered using SMS, in order to limit people to brevity and reduce the incidence of spurious and irrelevant posts to the mailing list that are a common occurrence on Internet chat groups.

Still Images: Still images such as photographs, pictures, postcards, greeting cards and presentations, static web pages can be sent and received over the mobile network as they are across fixed telephone networks. It will be possible with GPRS to post images from a digital camera connected to a GPRS radio device directly to an Internet site, allowing near real-time desktop publishing.

Moving Images: Over time, the nature and form of mobile communication is getting less textual and more visual. The wireless industry is moving from text messages to icons and picture messages to photographs and blueprints to video messages and movie previews being downloaded and on to full blown movie watching via data streaming on a mobile device.

Sending moving images in a mobile environment has several vertical market applications including monitoring parking lots or building sites for intruders or thieves, and sending images of patients from an ambulance to a hospital. Videoconferencing applications, in which teams of distributed sales people can have a regular sales meeting without having to go to a particular physical location, is another application for moving images.

Web Browsing: Using Circuit Switched Data for web browsing has never been an enduring application for mobile users. Because of the slow speed of Circuit Switched Data, it takes a long time for data to arrive from the Internet server to the browser. Alternatively, users switch off the images and just access the text on the web, and end up with difficult to read text layouts on screens that are difficult to read from. As such, mobile Internet browsing is better suited to GPRS.

Document Sharing/Collaborative Working: Mobile data facilitates document sharing and remote collaborative working. This lets different people in different places work on the same document at the same time. Multimedia applications combining voice, text, pictures and images can even be envisaged. These kinds of applications could be useful in any problem solving exercise such as fire fighting, combat to plan the route of attack, medical treatment, advertising copy setting, architecture, journalism and so on. Even comments on which resort to book a holiday at could benefit from document sharing to save everyone having to visit the travel agent to make a decision. Anywhere somebody can benefit from having and being able to comment on a visual depiction of a situation or matter, such collaborative working can be useful. By providing sufficient bandwidth, GPRS facilitates multimedia applications such as document sharing.

Audio: Despite many improvements in the quality of voice calls on mobile networks such as Enhanced Full Rate (EFR), they are still not broadcast quality. There are scenarios where journalists or undercover police officers with portable professional broadcast quality microphones and amplifiers capture interviews with people or radio reports dictated by themselves and need to send this information back to their radio or police station. Leaving a mobile phone on, or dictating to a mobile phone, would simply not give sufficient voice quality to allow that transmission to be broadcast or analyzed for the purposes of background noise analysis or voice printing, where the speech autograph is taken and matched against those in police storage. Since even short voice clips occupy large file sizes, GPRS or other high speed mobile data services are needed.

Job Dispatch: Nonvoice mobile services can be used to assign and communicate new jobs from office-based staff to mobile field staff. Customers typically telephone a call center whose staff take the call and categorize it. Those calls requiring a visit by field sales or service representative can then be escalated to those mobile workers. Job dispatch applications can optionally be combined with vehicle positioning applications - such that the nearest available suitable personnel can be deployed to serve a customer. GSM nonvoice services can be used not only to send the job out, but also as a means for the service engineer or sales person can keep the office informed of progress towards meeting the customer's requirement. The remote worker can send in a status message such as "Job 1234 complete, on my way to 1235".

Corporate Email: With up to half of employees typically away from their desks at any one time, it is important for them to keep in touch with the office by extending the use of corporate email systems beyond an employee's office PC. Corporate email systems run on Local Area computer Networks (LAN) and include Microsoft Mail, Outlook, Outlook Express, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Lotus cc:Mail.

Since GPRS capable devices will be more widespread in corporations than amongst the general mobile phone user community, there are likely to be more corporate email applications using GPRS than Internet email ones whose target market is more general.

Internet Email: Internet email services come in the form of a gateway service where the messages are not stored, or mailbox services in which messages are stored. In the case of gateway services, the wireless email platform simply translates the message from SMTP, the Internet email protocol, into SMS and sends to the SMS Center. In the case of mailbox email services, the emails are actually stored and the user gets a notification on their mobile phone and can then retrieve the full email by dialing in to collect it, forward it and so on.

Upon receiving a new email, most Internet email users do not currently get notified of this fact on their mobile phone. When they are out of the office, they have to dial in speculatively and periodically to check their mailbox contents. However, by linking Internet email with an alert mechanism such as SMS or GPRS, users can be notified when a new email is received.

Vehicle Positioning: This application integrates satellite positioning systems that tell people where they are with nonvoice mobile services that let people tell others where they are. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a free-to-use global network of 24 satellites run by the US Department of Defense. Anyone with a GPS receiver can receive their satellite position and thereby find out where they are. Vehicle positioning applications can be used to deliver several services including remote vehicle diagnostics, ad-hoc stolen vehicle tracking and new rental car fleet tariffs.

The Short Message Service is ideal for sending Global Positioning System (GPS) position information such as longitude, latitude, bearing and altitude. GPS coordinates are typically about 60 characters in length. GPRS could alternatively be used.

Remote LAN Access: When mobile workers are away from their desks, they clearly need to connect to the Local Area Network in their office. Remote LAN applications encompasses access to any applications that an employee would use when sitting at their desk, such as access to the intranet, their corporate email services such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes and to database applications running on Oracle or Sybase or whatever. The mobile terminal such as handheld or laptop computer has the same software programs as the desktop on it, or cut down client versions of the applications accessible through the corporate LAN. This application area is therefore likely to be a conglomeration of remote access to several different information types - email, intranet, databases. This information may all be accessible through web browsing tools, or require proprietary software applications on the mobile device. The ideal bearer for Remote LAN Access depends on the amount of data being transmitted, but the speed and latency of GPRS make it ideal.

File Transfer: As this generic term suggests, file transfer applications encompass any form of downloading sizeable data across the mobile network. This data could be a presentation document for a traveling salesperson, an appliance manual for a service engineer or a software application such as Adobe Acrobat Reader to read documents. The source of this information could be one of the Internet communication methods such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol), telnet, http or Java - or from a proprietary database or legacy platform. Irrespective of source and type of file being transferred, this kind of application tends to be bandwidth intensive. It therefore requires a high speed mobile data service such as GPRS, EDGE or UMTS to run satisfactorily across a mobile network.

Home Automation: Home automation applications combine remote security with remote control. Basically, you can monitor your home from wherever you are - on the road, on holiday, or at the office. If your burglar alarm goes off, not only do you get alerted, but you get to go live and see who are perpetrators are and perhaps even lock them in. Not only can you see things at home, but you can do things too. You can program your video, switch your oven on so that the preheating is complete by the time you arrive home (traffic jams permitting) and so on. Your GPRS capable mobile phone really does become like the remote control devices we use today for our television, video, hi-fi and so on. As the Internet Protocol (IP) will soon be everywhere - not just in mobile phones because of GPRS but all manner of household appliances and in every machine - these devices can be addressed and instructed. A key enabler for home automation applications will be Bluetooth, which allows disparate devices to interwork.

GPRS Features
GPRS has several unique features which can be summarized as:

Immediacy: GPRS facilitates instant connections whereby information can be sent or received immediately as the need arises. No dial-up modem connection is necessary. This is why GPRS users are sometimes referred to be as being "always connected". Immediacy is one of the advantages of GPRS (and SMS) when compared to Circuit Switched Data. High immediacy is a very important feature for time critical applications such as remote credit card authorization where it would be unacceptable to keep the customer waiting for even thirty extra seconds.

Speed: Theoretical maximum speeds of up to 171.2 kilobits per second (kbps) are achievable with GPRS using all eight timeslots at the same time. This is about three times as fast as the data transmission speeds possible over today’s fixed telecommunications networks and ten times as fast as current Circuit Switched Data services on GSM networks.

Service Access: To use GPRS, users specifically need:

  • mobile phone or terminal that supports GPRS (existing GSM phones do NOT support GPRS)
  • subscription to a mobile telephone network that supports GPRS
  • use of GPRS must be enabled for that user. Automatic access to the GPRS may be allowed by some mobile network operators, others will require a specific opt-in
  • knowledge of how to send and/ or receive GPRS information using their specific model of mobile phone, including software and hardware configuration (this creates a customer service requirement)
  • destination to send or receive information through GPRS. Whereas with SMS this was often another mobile phone, in the case of GPRS, it is likely to be an Internet address, since GPRS is designed to make the Internet fully available to mobile users for the first time. From day one, GPRS users can access any web page or other Internet applications- providing an immediate critical mass of uses.