Today, more than 85% of the population is covered by a GSM network. There are four billion GSM only subscriptions and 80% of M2M devices are GSM only. So, how can operators satisfy and grow this base when planning the evolution of their GSM network? Ericsson’s new Thin Layer GSM addresses this challenge and opportunity.

GSM may be only 2G but it is not going away anytime soon. It still offers unique advantages in terms of coverage, subscribers, device cost, roaming and M2M application support.

Voice will continue to be supported on GSM. In developing markets, 80-90 percent of the voice traffic is carried on GSM while in mature markets we still see 50-60 percent. Voice fallback traffic from 3G and LTE will also continue to be an important use case, given GSM’s broad coverage.

Meanwhile, there is ongoing work in the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to improve coverage, and reduce both the cost and energy consumption of GSM M2M devices. Improvements in the number of M2M devices that can be handled are also under consideration. These advances mean that GSM is likely to play an important role in enabling the mass roll out of M2M in the future. More than 25% of M2M devices are expected to be GSM only in 2020.

GSM also plays a key role in mobile broadband build out through spectrum re-farming. By reallocating portions of the spectrum from GSM to 3G or LTE, operators can quickly increase both mobile broadband capacity and coverage. Typically the GSM 900MHz band is freed up for 3G and the 1800MHz band for LTE. This also means that operators need to continue to invest in GSM development, such as features for better spectrum efficiency to compensate for less available spectrum because of re-farming. Re-farming has two important advantages for operators:

Cost: Acquiring new spectrum is very costly Time: Re-allocating spectrum is much faster than waiting for an auction to happen

GSM device costs also tend to be lower. So, for applications that do not require high data speeds, GSM may be the most cost-effective solution.

Understanding that GSM may continue to play an important role in their business, operators are looking for ways to optimize it.

Thin Layer GSM is Ericsson’s approach to optimizing and evolving GSM. The concept focusses on a combination of superior performance with maximum resource efficiency and minimum OPEX. It meets operator’s network needs to be 'thin' or more efficient.

GSM network efficiency encompasses spectrum, hardware and energy. With Thin Layer GSM:

  • More spectrum can be freed up for mobile broadband expansion to support 10 times more data, and 3 times more voice with 50% less spectrum.
  • Hardware efficiency can be achieved by the new compact and efficient hardware itself, as well as new software features.
  • Energy efficiency is achieved with software features that turn off unused hardware during low traffic and through reduced output power.

The Thin Layer GSM approach also means that none of the network hardware is unique to GSM, instead forming part of a multistandard architecture. This makes it easy for operators to deploy common transport and network management to further improve efficiency.

At the same time, increased automation of GSM improves operational efficiency and simplicity to reduce expenses. The goal is to have GSM completely automated with minimum manual intervention. Thin Layer GSM encompasses a number of innovative and cost-saving solutions including: automatic frequency planning, automatic neighbour planning, automatic outage handling, and auto-tuning of handover borders between cells.

Operators are taking a proactive approach in planning the evolution of their GSM networks. Most will migrate from today’s single standard network to a multistandard solution, which includes GSM. Thin Layer GSM supports operators in this evolution.